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?P.S.? and ?Tarnation.?
Issue of 2004-10-18
Posted 2004-10-11

I like Anthony Lane, although David Denby is a better successor to the great Pauline Kael.. Here is his quick review of "Tarnation." I don't think I'll see it.

From the moment, in the opening minutes of ?Tarnation,? when somebody searches on Google for the words ?lithium overdose,? you know that you?re in for a rough ride. The film is a documentary, directed by Jonathan Caouette, starring Jonathan Caouette, and based on the life of Jonathan Caouette. It is not an enviable life. He was born in Texas, in 1972, to a troubled woman named Renee, a former child model. At the age of twelve, playing on a roof, she had slipped. Destabilized by the fall, she underwent electric-shock treatment and frequent hospitalization. She later married a man who abused her and left her, and the effects of all this were handed down to Jonathan like a curse.

The movie is a daunting blend of head trip, cin?ma v?rit?, music video, and auto-therapy. In his teens, Caouette was introduced to underground film by friends in the Houston gay scene, and ?Tarnation? may point toward a new age for underground auteurs, who, with a little help from their iMacs, can crawl upward into the sunlight with digital splicings of their old home movies and bad dreams. The executive producer is Gus Van Sant, but the presiding genius is Andy Warhol, although the jagged acceleration of the editing?we get the rush of existence, never the drag?might have struck even Warhol as hair-raising. The first half of ?Tarnation? is almost unwatchably sad, as Jonathan and Renee keep step in their Job-like afflictions (Renee sought a new life in Chicago but was raped by a stranger in front of Jonathan, who was then placed in foster care and maltreated), and the tales of splintered hope, with ?Wichita Lineman? playing over them, may drive some viewers to tears. Further along, however, the picture is preyed upon, as is every memoir, by the threat of the narcissistic, and as the son points the camera at his mother in the New York of 2000, and presses her for details of her marriage, you fear a fresh cycle of harm. ?We can talk, Jon,? she cries, in obvious distress. ?We don?t need it on film.? There is an art, as hard as any other, in knowing when art has to stop. *
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