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Tarnation (2003)

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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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Cast overview, first billed only:
Renee Leblanc ...
Adolph Davis ...
Rosemary Davis ...
David Sanin Paz ...
Joshua Williams ...
Michael Cox ...
Guy cussing in short film
David Leblanc ...
Stacey Mowery ...
Michael Mouton ...
Himself (as Bam-Bam)
Vanda Stovall ...
Dagon James ...
Vivian Kalinov ...
Herself (as Girl in Student Film)
Steve Caouette ...


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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Your greatest creation is the life you lead


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

10 November 2004 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Kolastirio  »


Box Office


$218 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$12,740, 10 October 2004, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$592,014, 27 May 2005
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


It cost $218 to make but the budget rose to $400,000, once music and video clip royalties were included. See more »


[first lines]
Renee Leblanc: [singing] This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
See more »


References Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) See more »


Now Many Times
Written by Oscar Franf, George Soulé and Terry Woodford
Performed by Mavis Staples
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User Reviews

Everyone has a story to tell...
12 November 2005 | by See all my reviews

Super-8 auteur Jonathan Caouette, a young gay man with an extremely turbulent life, reveals his troubled childhood through home-movies and stills. The worshipful son of a beautiful ex-child model/single mother/electro-shock recipient, Caouette manages, in surprisingly linear fashion considering the circumstances, to paint a vivid portrait of the ultimate dysfunctional family. His grandparents, who ended up adopting Jonathan after his mother was jailed and he went through the horrors of the foster care system, are revealed as loving yet unconcerned older folks with perhaps a secretive, defensive side; Jonathan's mother Renee, once a striking young woman, is the sad result of "medical expertise" gone shatteringly wrong. The film is alternately assaultive, theatrical (Jonathan revealed a highly acute sense of theatricality and love for outré movies at a very young age), amusing, narcissistic, boring, compelling and, finally, quite moving. There are just as many stretches of questionable sincerity on Caouette's part as there are exhilarating moments--a joyous romp on the beach with mom or a beautiful, revealing childhood lip-synching take on "Frank Mills". The alt-rock soundtrack is superb and Caouette, a handsome, playfully schizophrenic star-in-the-making, is a talent to watch. **1/2 from ****

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