Irish Film Institute -Tarnation


Director: Jonathan Caouette

U.S.A.| 2003. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 88 min.)

At the age of 11, Jonathan Caouette borrowed a neighbour’s video camera and began documenting his own life. By 13 he was sneaking into a gay New Wave club disguised as a petite Goth girl and lip-synching to ‘Liquid Sky’, and at 15 was staging a musical version of Blue Velvet. For this movie obsessed youngster, filming was a way both of escaping and controlling his own life. Then, in 2003, Caouette learned of his mother Renee’s lithium overdose and returned home to Texas to help her recover. Faced with the reminders of his chaotic upbringing in a dysfunctinal family marked by mental illness, Caouette started the process of editing almost 20 years of recordings into this beautifully original psychedelic memoir. Using Apple’s iMovie editing software to assemble and manipulate family snapshots, home movies, audio recordings, video diaries, answerphone message, movie clips and pop culture moments, he has created a richly textured intimate portrait of his life with and without his mother.
Heartbreaking, brutal, poignant and uplifting by turn, Tarnation is visionary filmmaking for sure, genuinely pushing the boundaries of how we understand cinema. But it’s also an emotional trip, suffused with a vulnerability that lingers longer than the most exhilarating image. As Caouette himself puts it: ‘Tarnation is a film about youth, art, sexuality, mental illness, America and survival. It’s also a love letter to my mother and to all mothers everywhere.

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