Friday, October 15, 2004

Tarnation Directed by Jonathan Caouette

I’m of two completely different minds regarding Tarnation. Director (although he didn’t really direct a whole lot of the action) Jonathan Caouette is also producer, star, and cinematographer. I take a potshot at the directing credit because the movie is a composite of home video that Caouette has shot since the age of 11. Much ado is made over the cost of a film these days; either it broke spending records or it, amazingly, cost under a million dollars. The bottom line is this: a good film is a good film, regardless of cost. That said, Tarnation deserves a bit of attention in the fiscal department. Cost: under $250. Caouette made the film on his boyfriend’s iMac, using the iMovie software that comes with.

Back story: Caouette’s mother was a beautiful model. Due to some plot points I will not divulge, she became insane. Tarnation is Caouette’s exorcism of the devils that haunted his life, due largely to his mother’s insanity.

Back to the two minds bit. This was one of the most emotionally draining films I’ve seen. Caouette nearly begs the audience to invest themselves in his life. We see an 11 yr. Old Jonathan give an outstanding* mirror soliloquy, role-playing a Faulkner meets Caldwell whore who recounts her beau holding a gun to her head. We see Caouette train his camera, for two entire minutes, on his mentally deteriorated mother as she dances with a pumpkin. It is all terribly affecting. And it is all terribly affected.

*Yes, outstanding is the word I meant to use. This kid’s monologue could run circles round 50% of Hollywood today. If he had pursued an acting career a little earlier, it might’ve saved him some grief. Who am I kidding? It probably would’ve screwed him up worse.

The first 1/4 of the film is composed of video and still shots that background text telling us Jonathan’s story, in full detail. The sentences are cut up in such a way that their intent is absolute. dramatic. gravity. As a fictitious example: “The Jones family had a wonderful life. They went to church, they ate dinner together – everything was great (this is where the big pause/sentence break would come in) until Mother Jones murdered her entire family.” Mel Gibson had a similar problem (amongst many others) with The Passion of the Christ. Instead of allowing a singular moment to display the gravity of the situation, a gimmick, such as the aforementioned sentence-break, is employed. With Gibson, it was the super slo-mo, Monday Night Football replay. Just as Gibson attempted to give weight to an already heavy situation via the grotesque, Young Jonathan’s soliloquy speaks volumes about his shambled life, but the text only dramatizes it and seems to beg for pity.

More than the actual artifact, which I did enjoy (with reservations), I’m dreading the copycats. This is the type of film that could generate a slew of equally affected, colon cleansing Caouette clones. America is full of screwed up people, just waiting to tell their story. The problem is this: as with any good colon cleansing, one person is left feeling great and the rest are left drenched in crap. I’d wager that the one feeling great will not be the viewing public.