Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother -- a mixture of snapshots, Super-8, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more -- culled from 19 years of his life.
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Part documentary, part narrative fiction, part home movie, and part acid trip. A psychedelic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, old answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, snippets of '80s pop culture, and dramatic reenactments to create an epic portrait of an American family travesty. The story begins in 2003 when Jonathan learns that his schizophrenic mother, Renee, has overdosed on her lithium medication. He is catapulted back into his real and horrifying family legacy of rape, abandonment, promiscuity, drug addiction, child abuse, and psychosis. As he grows up on camera, he finds the escapist balm of musical theater and B horror flicks and reconnects to life through a queer chosen family. Then a look into the future shows Jonathan as he confronts the symbiotic and almost unbearable love he shares with his beautiful and tragically damaged mother. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
I know I should, but I don't watch many documentaries. It's a different world inside of film-making, one in which everything is, among other things, real. Another feeling that a documentary generates is immediacy; a sensation of present time even if it's telling something that's older than you. "Tarnation", a life story, is a striking view of a unique personality.
Jonathan Caouette, its director, is now in his thirties; but it's like he had planned it all his life, like if he had known it would be a completed project all along. Here we see a lot of films inside of the big film, that Caouette put together to show who he is, what he does, how he feels and how the people who live around him act.
More than the rest, there is a focus on his mother, Renee LeBlanc, who suffers from schizophrenia and didn't live with him for a long time. She lives with him now and Jonathan lived with his grandparents for a lot of years, and he didn't know his father but he tried to find him; and he also lived with foster parents and he always knew he was gay.
This and more is seen in the images he put together in a program anyone with a Macintosh Apple- computer can use. I don't want to say much more because "Tarnation", although not great, is really magical and inspiring Magical because is like nothing you've ever seen before; inspiring because it shows and speaks of the creativity of the filmmaker. It will give to anyone who's thinking about doing cinema ideas about tons of things, unstoppably.
And "Tarnation" is also a film for any true cinema lover, because it contains references to a lot of names and important influential cinematographic figures. But influential for him, who, as he inspires us, shows us who inspired him One example that comes to mind is the fact that Caouette and a friend made a musical stage version of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" when they were in high school.
He says it in the film's tag-line: "Your greatest creation is the life you lead", and he is right. So be encouraged, and if you feel that you should make a film out of every day you live, don't worry and write about it; or carry a camera with you through the day. This is the kind of message "Tarnation" wants to leave, cinematically.
Emotionally, it wants to show the truly difficult experiences of a genius who, somehow, had a whole movie in his head and wanted the world to know he's not afraid of showing these experiences with and in it Life is like that, you can't escape it; write that down.
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