7.2/10
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115 user 74 critic

Tarnation (2003)

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Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother -- a mixture of snapshots, Super-8 film, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more - culled from nineteen years of his life.

Director:

Jonathan Caouette
9 wins & 12 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

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

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

Taglines:

Your greatest creation is the life you lead


Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

10 November 2004 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Kolastirio See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$218 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$12,740, 10 October 2004, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$592,014, 27 May 2005
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby SR

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Was edited with Apple Computer's "iMovie" - a free DV editing program for Macintosh computers. See more »

Quotes

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

Connections

References Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) See more »

Soundtracks

Strange Powers
Written by Stephin Merritt
Performed by The Magnetic Fields
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User Reviews

Seriously disappointed
17 October 2004 | by jinazakiSee all my reviews

I guess I fall into the "art school gimmicks" camp regarding this film. I went into it intrigued with the idea of watching a 13 year tale of a mother and son. Such was hardly the case. I have to admit somewhat brutally, that this movie seemed somewhat exploitative. Given how much of the film was about Caouette growing up as a gay male, I fail to see how his mother's condition actually had a hand in it. Honestly she seemed to merely be a device (an unwilling one at that) to extend Caouette's angst well into adulthood where he otherwise seemed pretty settled and happy.

The structure of the movie was: shock the viewer with my mother's condition, now talk about my horrible angst ridden teen years, now bring mother back to keep the emotion going.

I was not at all impressed with the experimental/disjointed editing style. I've been to a fair amount of film festivals and, if anything, that sort of manipulation disappeared with the advent of affordable editing software. In short, they don't even do that in film school anymore.

One more disappointment: quite late in the film, we have an opportunity to hear about Caouette's mom from two people in Caouette's family. In one instance, the opportunity is totally wasted; nothing comes of his on-camera time. In the other (with his grandfather), Caouette's manner of questioning badgering and accusatory; he doesn't let the old man get a decent thought out.


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