Indie Classics: Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation
Usually a film will take you through a set moment in time to tell a story, a few months or so of the protagonist’s life in order to get the most of the story out. This is not the case in Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation. Through photographs he introduces the viewer to his grandparents when they were young and just married and takes you through his mother’s young life all the way to when he was born.
Tarnation is an autobiographical documentary of Caouette’s life, a look through a lens that is so focused on every detail it is as though we are able to see his life much in the way Caouette himself sees it. One of the most interesting parts of the film is that the story is told through text on the screen and the videos and images are used as supplementation. Through old and new footage we learn about Caouette’s mother, Renee LeBlanc, and how she was treated with electroshock therapy that inevitably led to her lifelong psychological issues. The film takes us through his life journey battling with a family history of mental illnesses. In one of the more revealing takes on storytelling Caouette gives his audience a very intimate experience and extremely personal look at how one young man made his life journey.
Tarnation blew people away when Caouette released the film. He took home eight awards including the 2005 Independent Spirit Award for best Documentary, the 2005 National Society of Film Critic’s Award (USA), and was nominated for five more. The film enjoyed a spot as an official selection at various top film festivals around the world including, Sundance, London, New York, Chicago, Cannes, and Toronto. Caouette made the film for the famous cost of $218.32 by using the free software on his Mac, after post-production costs and setting rights for the music and other media he used the cost of the film soared to a much higher total.
Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation is an evocative intimate look into how people live their lives. It is definitely a movie that should be watched if you want to go through the evolution of independent film documentaries.