Made for just $218 and edited using the iMovies software, the film interweaves a psychedelic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, answering machine messages, video diaries, snippets of 80's pop culture and dramatic re-enactments to create an epic portrait of director Jonathan Caouette's American family. It is also a personal love letter to the filmmaker's mother Renee, who spent much of her youth undergoing electro-shock therapy.
Self indulgent and overwrought
- Tarnation review by Shatner's Bassoon
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The problem with 'Tarnation' is it begins as original and spontaneous, but ends as staged, contrived, and at times downright disturbing; not the least of which is Jonathan Caouette's shameless manipulation of his family as tools of his film. He purposely antagonizes those he claims to love for the sake of staging scenes, sometimes even at the risk of sending his mother into psychotic episodes. Caouette's treatment of his grandfather in one particular scene is so detestable that you have to question if he has any sense of decency at all. You soon discover the central theme of this documentary is not about Caouette growing up with a schizophrenic mother. It's solely about him; she's merely a storyline that he conveniently returns to from time to time to create some drama. In reality, Tarnation is nothing more than a totally self absorbed film by Jonathan Caouette about Jonathan Caouette. His family is merely hijacked for the ride, which turns into a crash, which he walks away from leaving everyone else broken and in pain. Whether you love or hate this film, it is a unique and creative piece of work, and Jonathan Caouette shows himself to be an extremely talented individual. The trouble is by the end of the film you'll probably dislike Caouette so much you'll never want to see or hear anything about him again.