If Tarnation (2004) hadn't been advertised as the true story of a gay young man's life with a schizophrenic mother, I might not have hated it quite so much. It's actually a narcissistic self-portrait of a whining, whinging, self-hating, crossdressing dufus, decorated a bit with his mom's more interesting presence, but in the main a masturbatory exercise in front of Jonathan Caouette's mirror.
He's a man without talent showing off his lack. He's been filming himself obsessively since he was about eleven years old, & seems to have reached the height of his pseudo-talent or weird beauty at the start of the project, capturing himself at age eleven as precocious chickenhawk-bait, a drama-queen posturing as a diseased southern belle from a Tennessee Williams play.
But his narcisistic art soon deteriorated, & the older he gets in this self-documentation, the less artistic & more gross he seems to be. Without the precosity of the childhood footage, there's not much else to him but immaturity.
That his white trash family & especially himself are repulsive is not totally lacking in interest, in a hillbillies-on-parade Jerry Springer sort of way. But unlike, say, Crumb (1994), about underground artist R. Crumb, there is no underlying genius which the context of lunacy illuminates. It's freak show for freak show sake.
The other film that this one put me in mind of was Sick (1997) about an exhibitionist super-masochist who pounds a nail through his dick. Tarnation has the same degree of perverse exhibitionism, but lacks the honest, let alone the heroic pathos of Sick, hence less performance art than mere loon standing naked on a street corner begging to be noticed.
By the time we reach the end of this appallingly anal self-portrait, it seems that Caouette missed his time & place, as he could've been one of the "least lights" of the Warhol circle, a hanger-on whose name nobody quite remembered.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl