Tarnation

"OK"

Tarnation Review


Documenting a personal, traumatic life experience engenders difficult concerns as to how to give it a filmic quality. If the story is dramatic in itself, such as in the case of Capturing the Friedmans, some simple "innocent" shots set against a present turmoil are enough to provoke a mixture of emotions and sustain attention even at quieter moments because you are still trying to digest the surprise that's been put in front of you.

In the case of Tarnation, a look at the writer/director's tumultuous upbringing in Houston, Texas, it's unfortunate that these emotional beats occur more in the sporadic type-written narrative segments that bookend significant steps in his life than when humans are actually on camera. And in order to make up for the fact that the material for the film is derived from the constant home movie footage Jonathan Caouette is always shooting, a lot of coloration and lighting effects are thrown into the mix to ensure that there is a visual element in place. Though these added touches are an attempt to generate sympathy with Caouette's depersonalization disorder illness, they come off as an unfocused, repetitive eyesore that causes your mind to stray from what it's watching.

Not that Tarnation doesn't have its share of respectful assets. Even as the voice that bears it is that of a homosexual who had lashed out as a teen, there is never a thematic concentration or argument put forth about sexual politics. The main dramatic focus remains on the consistent and ignorant usage of extreme, unnecessary medical treatments suffered by his mother, Renee. The effort to not place blame, but to really chronicle a series of events that led to Caouette's growth through her illness, is strongly affective. Not pushing the audience to feel guilty about the circumstances allows you to care, and to appreciate that Jonathan has escaped and fostered some small success for himself and kin.

It's a nice gesture that "name" assistance came from Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell to get Tarnation together and aid in its journey into the film world for a first feature project. The combination of supporters, and the content of the film, does offer some interesting innovation about handling dramatic situations with detached grace. However, the insistence on bragging about the cheap way in which editing was completed does not turn out as impressive as you might hope. Boasting of the easy access to technology and the simplicity of quick iMovie editing only makes you wonder if Tarnation could have been a stronger film had real elbow grease been thrown into it. Instead, it feels as if it was thrown together, that an amateur was looking for ways to learn about new gadgets.

Tarnation has strong, effective narrative voice and structure, but lacks the variety of imagery it could have used to support its intriguing ideas.

The DVD adds commentary track and bonus scenes.

Reviewed as part of the 2004 New York Film Festival.

Tarnation in an oil town.



Tarnation

Facts and Figures

Run time: 88 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 10th November 2004

Box Office USA: $0.4M

Box Office Worldwide: $1.2M

Budget: 218

Distributed by: Wellspring

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 94 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer:

Starring: as Herself, as Himself, as Himself, as Herself, as Himself

Also starring:

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