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Notes 10-28-10

AyaSeaver's picture

 Responses to Tarnation

·      I enjoyed the film but thought it was kind of freaky.

·      And what was wrong with Jonathan’s mother, that she had to receive shock therapy? 

o   There was some difference of perception, whether Rene’s parents had consulted the Doctors, or really known what they were doing, if Rene was mentally disturbed before the accident or only as a result of the accident.

o   How could Rene’s parents let that happen to her?

·      Something seemed ‘wrong’ or ‘off’ with the relationship between his grandparents, the Grandmother especially struck people as being ‘off’ or ‘missing something’

·      It made me think of Bechdel and her not seeing everything that was ‘true’ about her father. Maybe there’s a benefit to not knowing everything about your parents.

·      What was ‘real’ in the documentary?

·      What was ‘fake’?

  • o   Parts of the film were re-enacted by Caouette’s son. The parts in foster care were staged as were some of the shot’s with David (Caouette’s partner)
  • o   In addition a lot of the documentary itself is narrated, or Caouette interviews his family members to get information about his childhood from them
  • ·      At this point we reviewed some notes Anne put up about what she was doing today!


·      Did people like Tarnation? Or The Thin Blue Line?

   o   [This was not a clear up or down issue!]

o   Tarnation upset almost everyone who saw it

o   Some of us couldn’t keep watching it all the way through

 ‘ok, I get the point’

o   or, fast-forwarded

o   wanted to know what would happen/or had happened and there wasn’t closure or clear information

  •  i.e.--> is his mother still alive?
  •  What current treatment is she going through?
  •  Does Caouette receive any treatment for his Depersonalization Disorder?

   A sense that we weren’t getting ‘the film experience’

  •  Some people really felt that A Thin Blue Line gave a full film experience
  • Other felt the repetitions, reenactments, did not help seemed overly dramatic or forced and if it was like a movie than it was like a bad movie not a good documentary


o   Was Caouette siding with his Grandparents? Or his mother? Whose account of the fall, her childhood, his childhood, does he represent as more factual?

  •  Mostly we seemed to feel that he sided with his mother
  • [But not her allegations that her parents beat her?]


Reenactments in Tarnation and The Thin Blue Line

The re-enactments in The Thin Blue Line distanced us from the story line

  •  Ditto for Tarnation
  •  Contrawise, people also felt that the reenactments in The Thin Blue Line helped involve us in the investigative process, make the differences in the testimonies more obvious and also more persuasive
  •  By seeing how completely a single fact or mistake could change everything, we became more and more skeptical of the overall narratives
  •   some of us still feel that the style of the reenactments were alienating and not effective
  •  we agree to disagree

·      Part of the appeal to watching The Thin Blue Line does seem to be the fact that a lot of us have watched crime procedurals before, or even crime-Docs

 Were we disillusioned about our legal system

  •  No.
  •  The film wasn’t a revelation it was really more of an affirmation of prior knowledge—things like The Innocent Project


·      Our first impressions:

  • Once we thought something—like that Randall looked like a killer it was hard to knock our ‘bias’
  •  had he been lighted a certain way?
  •  What ‘convinces us of the truth’ to reference FatCatRex’s post?
  •  No one was quite sure about this! If the context of watching the crime-doc made them more aware or suspicious of Randall? We weren’t ready to commit or sure


  • How do we convince ourselves of truth??
  •  ‘we all have our own version of the truth’ it’s politics, how many people can you convince?
  •  I personally decide what is true
  •  Does that make things less true?
  •  Truth is very constructed…historically post WW-II we have embraced certain cultural attitudes in America
  •  But who decides what is real for everyone?
  •  Unclear!


[ Watched the short clip of Tarnation]

  • It’s humorous at times (we laugh)
  •  Is that really him? (yes)


o   Problems/Questions

 What kind of 11 year old knows about this stuff?

  • Being tied down in bed
  • ‘whore’

What was the point of the monologue in the film?

  •  He was projecting/acting out part of his trauma
  • His mother’s trauma
  •  It was an example of him at that age

·      What was the point of the whole film?

What kind of adults let him act like that?

  • ·      You can hear them in the background!
  • ·      Support of his acting career
  • But—the material?
    • He grew up with things like that happening around him. They are aware of the fact that he’s had a damaged childhood already—there seems to be little effort to bring him to a ‘normative’ plain.

Would he have remembered the trip to Chicago? (his mother’s assault?)

  •  Yes!
  •  Vs
  •  No.

·      Current scientific evidence suggests that the trauma remains but the exact memory doesn’t

  •  So possibly he has the ‘space’ in his memory, or the effective of the trauma
  •   Then his mother or grandparents ‘fill in’ the blank spaces in the narrative?
  •  He might pretending to be a battered woman but these experiences are real to a lot of people, perhaps directly based off his mother's
  •  How much—i.e. the Jimmy/makeup/whore comment—comes from his grandparents?

Is acting a ‘lie’?

‘not real’

this film was a ‘real life horror story’

·      how much of this is editing? We could all make a horror movie out of our head

o   Was Caouette taking advantage of his mother?

  •  he was making her speak
  •  wasn’t a big deal, she talked about this kind of thing all the time

but how did the camera change it for her, for us

·      he’s using the film to try and understand, perceive, review his whole life

  •    his mother is not helpful in this goal
  •    As in The Thin Blue Line we see ‘real people’ talking about ‘real things’ that happened to eachother—but everyone contradicts eachother
  •  In the end, he realizes, we realize too! That he can’t rely on his mother, his family, for an identity or answer


o   Are dreams fiction?

  •  Freud: unconscious/subconscious
  •  Dreams are how we process information
  •  At the same time, we’re still not sure what happens in our brains
  •  When we wake up after dreams, we’re confused
  • Reality isn’t clearly delineated


o   What would all the directors say to each other?

  •  Orson Welles creates/plays with the non linear structure
  •  Caouette actually “is crazy”
  •  Welles would like The Thin Blue Line
  •  Flashing between the lines to tell the story
  •  All of them use inter-medial elements, non linear elements


·      Are documentaries boring

  •    It depends on the style
  •  “I feel like the point of documentaries are that you should learn things”
  •  and we didn’t learn anything?
  • [or we did]

·      Narcissism?

  • o   Caouette doesn’t seem indulgent
  •  He’s not like that annoying kid on facebook
  •  The age we live in (the ‘me age’ whatever that means) can inundate information but that isn’t the case here 


AyaSeaver's picture

My reaction to *Tarnation*

       I really understand how disjointed and almost non-narrative parts of the film were but at the same time that engaged me a lot more than "A Thin Blue Line" did, where I felt like the narrative weight was imposed onto the story line, a story line that really could never reach a final conclusion. There was no conclusive element or evidence to work with but at the same time, the film really was trying to make a specific argument. 

On the other hand "Tarnation" really just seems to me like an exploration, a search for an answer or maybe just a search for the right questions to ask. I don't think it that the film always works. I think Tarnation could have made use of some outside information. Some doctors talking about shock treatments perhaps. The sustained vision of Caouette is brilliant but at the same time as exhausting to the audience as it must have been to the filmmaker himself.  

A lot can be done with editing (at governor's school the creative writing teacher used to show this video to remind us what we could do to our stories if we had enough re-vision) but I buy this story a lot more than I bought "F is for Fake" or "War of the Worlds" or even "A Thin Blue Line". For me, the personal stories, the ones told by the authors who have experienced the events they are relating are more interesting--and I trust them more than I trust generalities. When we know a story is "real", when we know everything--all the answers...what is left? I'm not sure if we can ever be 'sure' of the details--I think things like crime documentaries have made us expect answers. But, at the same time we know that the justice system can't figure it out. Why are we so sure that investigative journalism is any more sure? (No matter how earnest the director is, I'd rather have Orson investigating my trial) 

two points!

Caouette's most recent work was an musical documentary:

as far as I could discover his mother is still alive

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