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Overall Rating
3.67

Awesome: 20.83%
Worth A Look50%
Just Average: 4.17%
Pretty Crappy: 25%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 6 user ratings


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Tarnation
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by Beth Gilligan

"A painful, powerful look at the life of a troubled Texas family."
4 stars

Jonathan Caouette unflinchingly examines his family's troubled history in this disturbing documentary.

As Capturing the Friedmans demonstrated, one’s personal hell can make for compelling, if uncomfortable, viewing. While that film unflinchingly documented an incident (the arrest of a father and son on charges of child molestation) that led to a family’s unraveling, Tarnation plunges the viewer into the decades of personal distress that have shaped his troubled family life. In sharp contrast to the meditative approaches favored by Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March, Bright Leaves) and Nathaniel Kahn (My Architect), every frame of Caouette’s film is filled with a pulsing, restless energy, belying the constant turmoil that has haunted his immediate family members.

While many documentaries released today favor the time-honored format of interspersing footage of the subject at hand with interviews with participants/experts, Caouette’s aesthetic is shaped by the underground films he watched at gay clubs as a teen. The way he toys with images and sounds cannot help but call to mind the experimental cinema of Paul Morrisey, Jack Smith, and, occasionally, Bruce Conner. Not only is the story he has to tell interesting, but the way he tells it brings his experiences vividly (and at times, painfully) to life.

Tarnation begins in the present day, with 30-year old Jonathan waking up to a phone call informing him that his troubled mother, Renee, has landed herself in the hospital after a lithium overdose. Caouette then swiftly moves back in time to trace the origins of Renee’s battle with mental illness. Along the way, we are treated to glimpses of Caouette’s own troubled childhood in the shadow of distant, troubled mother. Like the Friedman children, he learned to use a video camera at a young age, and has been filming parts of his life from the age 12 onward.

Although the film is stuffed with one traumatic incident after another, it is not without a sly sense of humor. For instance, one hilarious scene depicts Caouette’s high school musical production of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, set to the music of Marianne Faithfull.

Overall, however, one comes away disturbed by the events depicted onscreen, and yet strangely exhilarated by innovative and undoubtedly therapeutic way Caouette has found to express his demons. In the end, it seems cinema itself is the hero of this story.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10164&reviewer=379
originally posted: 11/11/04 11:56:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/01/06 Ole Man Bourbon Jesus, how can somone take so many pictures of himself? 3 stars
12/27/05 sulky Wow... 5 stars
11/10/05 K. Sear While it loses some momentum near the end, the film is stunning overall. 5 stars
8/12/05 tatum Simply a stunning piece of work 5 stars
12/10/04 jo the best ever 5 stars
7/09/04 Bri from University of Georgia Kick Ass film. My fave at the Cannes Film Fest this year 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 17-May-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  14-Jul-2005




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