Tarnation is the widely acclaimed autobiography of actor, writer and director, Jonathan Caouette’s early life and relationship with his mentally ill mother Renee LeBlanc (who suffered from schizophrenia). The film is sourced from an eclectic range of material that spans 20 years. The film is woven together from video footage, photographs, short films, and answering machine messages.
The documentary shines the spotlight on Caouette’s formative years and transition into adulthood. Abandoned by his father, his family network included his mother and grandparents, Adolph and Rosemary Davis with whom he lived for a while. The film shows the many layers that defined Caouette’s interdependent relationship with Renee – that of a child then friend and eventually parental figure.
Tarnation begins in 2003 when Caouette learns that Renee had overdosed on her medication. He is thrown back in time and reconnects to a childhood where real horrors of abandonment, drug addiction, mental illness and promiscuity outlined his world. His personal experiences of child abuse (in foster homes) and that of his mother (being subjected to electroshock therapy from the age of 11) overshadows his life. The film is his answer to coming to terms with his childhood history of pain.
At the age of 25, Caouette moved to New York. His mother often came to live with him and his boyfriend, David Sanin Paz who helped him in his efforts to help his mother find a level of peace.
“A tale of sadness and hysteria so raw that it bleeds.”
— Village Voice
“It’s something of a masterpiece: a confessional experimental documentary with echoes, both conscious and unconscious, of filmmakers from Andy Warhol to John Cassavetes, Stan Brakhage to David Lynch.”
— Chicago Reader
“Layering soundtrack and visuals in an intricate collage of rich emotional texture, he (Jonathan Caouette) displays an exhilarating talent.”
— The Hollywood Reporter
Did You Know?
Tarnation had an initial production cost budget of $218.13. Part of the reason for the film’s low budget is that editing was done on ordinary free iMovie software on a computer which also lends to the film’s intimate and unique DIY feel. Max Avery Lichtenstein composed a number of original instrumental songs for Tarnation. One of which is the recurring theme “Tarnation”. Review our Gay Themed Films Here