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Towards Day 16: Tarnation!

Anne Dalke's picture


Course Notes by ckosarek and Aya


I. coursekeeping
* I'm in Indianapolis talking about "accessing wonderland" @ the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts

* ?? moderating discussion; Cassie and Aya taking notes 

* By 5 p.m. tomorrow, your second 4-pp. paper is due on-line; if you chose to write about film, please review these guidelines; whatever you write about, please remember to tag it "Non-Fictional Prose Web Paper 2"

* for next Tuesday, try to read all of the graphic adaptation of "The 9/11 Report"

II. the old business of Thin Blue Line:
your further thoughts?

Thin Blue Line, as a "real" documentary, bored me ...[and yet??] the reenactments were also curious to me. Overly dramatic...

jaranda's "filing cabinet mind"
liked the more straightforward way the "facts" were presented in The Thin Blue Line [and yet??] the uncertainty of the whole case makes me wonder how many crimes are really ever "solved"

pfischer: a multilayered perspective is more representative of "reality" than a singular narrative presence ....can a majority vote can prove the 'truth' behind some components of the story?... Thin Blue Line seemed to be arguing that the justice system in this country was ... fundamentally and intrinsically flawed due to the over-reliance of juries and judges on witness testimony. The entire movie explores the different motives behind flawed or untrue testimony....

tgarber:  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Thin Blue Line. I enjoyed the repetitious illustration of the events of the night of the murder. [enjoyed?? explain enjoyed....?]

FatCatRex: how do we convince ourselves of the truth?... I'm curious about the intersection between authenticating a truth and an authentic truth .... anonymity and secrecy means that ... no one can question your facts or take away the value of your authentic truth.

III. leads us directly into this new business of Tarnation

play film short (to bring the film into focus in the class)

go 'round and share reactions to the
film as a whole:

*what worked for you, what didn't?
* what moved, what puzzled, what confused?

EVD: The introduction portion of the movie is one of the creepiest things I've watched in a long time .... It sets up the film as a kind of real life horror story.

smacholdt: I felt that a lot of what made the movie was the clever ways in which the director filmed, edited, and spliced the segments of video .... the choice of music ... contrasted with the images and with the mood of the documentary as a whole. I again noticed the discrepancies between different characters descriptions of the same event .... “There's more than one truth on view here.”

kgould: I was just as disturbed and just as impressed as the first time I watched it.

maht91: I had a very uncertain reaction .... The artistic techniques ... were interesting at some points, but also very creepy at other points .... Johnathan living in a dream came up multiple times. Dream is a form of fiction ....  Johnathan [said], I think the documentary "should only be told by the real people." However, how much can you believe the real people? ...[he also said,] "I like showing real things" [and that] he has to depend on  non-family members to get the truth about his mother and consequently himself. He just wants "to piece things together in the seek for the truth."

* what else did Caouette do, technically, to provoke your reactions?

going further:
* what questions might you have for Caouette (whom Michael Tratner is bringing to campus next semester)?

* what do you think Caouette and Errol Morris (who made Thin Blue Line) and Orson Welles might to say to one another?

*what do their films say to one another? what comparisons and distinctions do you see between the 3 films?

* how, taken together or considering individually, do they extend the history of documentaries as "boring films about social problems" (= “a discourse of sobriety”)?

* what "strategies of fiction for the approach to relative truths" does Caouette in particular employ?

--this film was (famously) made from 20 years of hundreds of hours of old Super 8 footage, VHS videotape, photographs, and answering machine messages, for a total budget of $218.32, using free iMovie software on a Mac (though many $1000s more were needed to bring it to market)

some reviews called Caouette a genius, others "simply self indulgent"; there were debates about whether his film is  "really" a documentary or a quasi-doc

what might you say back to Christopher Campbell's review in Cinematical? Jonathan Caouette made every young wannabe think they can and therefore should make a film about themselves with his very cheap and very self-indulgent Sundance hit Tarnation (which can now be seen, in parts, on YouTube, where it belongs). Just because you can make a documentary doesn't mean you should make one .... The key, as always with cinema, whether fiction or non-fiction, is to construct a strong narrative ....I blame the  ... "me decade." From the trend of memoirs to the explosion of social media, people now put their stories and their thoughts out to the public in any way they can. And with cameras and other filmmaking tools constantly decreasing in price, more and more people are making documentaries about themselves and their friends .... reality TV and documentary film ... are substantially separated by the fact that the former is continuous and based on a premise while the latter is contained and necessitates a concluding narrative. Reality TV also has more of an allowance for uninteresting subjects ... but it takes a talented individual, a compelling story and stimulating ideas to make a worthwhile documentary.

Cf. Aya's posting about J. Hillis Miller's idea that we "need more stories because in some way they do not satisfy.

Also Owl's "what cannot be described, cannot be real is an  axiom of certain philosophies"

Also Caouette's blog about the film

Course Notes by ckosarek and Aya