Shot on a budget of just $218 and edited at home on a iMovie software package, Tarnation is the remarkable autobiographical memoir of its 32-year-old creator's turbulent life. Splicing together clips from his own Super-8 home movies, photo-booth snaps, family photographs, excerpts from films, and videotaped interviews, Jonathan Caouette revisits his own tragic Texan upbringing. Abandoned before birth by his own father, the youngster was adopted by his eccentric grandparents, on account of his mother's crippling bouts of mental illness.
Tarnation's psychedelic visual style, with its rapid-fire editing, saturated colours and split screens is no cheap gimmick: the disorientating images reflect the disordered mental states of both Caouette and his mother Renee, a former beauty queen who was subject to repeated bouts of Electric Shock Therapy. Like David and Jesse in last year's best doc Capturing The Friedmans, Caouette turns out to have been a compulsive recorder of images: there's footage of him as an 11-year-old dressed in drag, pretending to be a Southern wife who'd been mistreated by her loutish husband.
"THERE'S NO DOUBTING CAOUETTE'S ACHIEVEMENT"
At times he pushes his interviewees too far, ignoring the request of his Alzheimer's-affected grandfather to switch off the camera, or in one particularly painful sequence, keeping his camera trained on a clearly deluded Renee. Yet, there's no doubting the deep love Caouette feels for his troubled mother, nor his achievement in forging such a rawly emotional film from his own traumatic experiences.