If someone were to tell you to go make a movie using iMovie, anyone would say no problem. If they told you to make a full length feature using iMovie, most people would stop in their tracks and not continue on. I mean, it's a task that is doomed to be incredulous Even wanting to do so may end up disastrous. However, iMovie alone is not an issue with Jonathan Caouette. Using iMovie with old VHS tape clips and answering machine messages, along with digital recordings and photographs, that cover twenty years of history is something else entirely. Caouette has not only enough passion, but enough absolute grief, to turn Tarnation away from being a sloppy home movie and into an experimental nightmare: One we do not want to take part in but we still feel the need to observe.
Caouette has lived a rough life. He did not know his father until he was in his 30's. His mother was given electroshock treatment for no legitimate reason and she became mentally unstable and, well, crazy for a lack of a better word. Caouette was abused in a foster home. There is oh so much more that has happened to this man. He comes out as a homosexual when he was a young kid, but this actually appears to be the least troublesome event for him. He showcased his strength from an early age and used it as a drive of determination. As more and more happen to him, we ask ourselves "are things getting worse, or are the better now that he can cope with them?"
The avant garde style is not only uncomfortable at times, it is in fact disturbing. The creepy sounds of reverb seem to always compliment the flashing, extreme close ups of disturbing images such as his grandmother's last days as she slowly goes insane, and a woman, presumably either his mother or a woman representing her, undergoing Electroconvulsive treatment. I am fairly desensitized as there is not one single horror movie that can scare me or even creep me out, but Tarnation struck some chord in my mind. There were moments where I was too scared to see what is going to happen next, presumably like the young Caouette himself. As the movie progresses, it gets less experimental and more home video-like, as Caouette shifts from a scared teenager to a stable adult and possibly into a scared adult.
This movie is a ride and a half. Caouette is artistic in all senses of the word. His excruciating, never ending nightmare ends off on a bittersweet note as, like him, we can only keep our heads up even with an unhappy ending. This movie is particularly wonderful because of how it breaks the rules, both with documentaries and with home editing software (possibly even free software). Caouette proves that you don't always need the most or the best equipment to make a movie. Sometimes all you need is the drive and the purpose.
Final Rating: 9.2/10