Tarnation tackles themes of growing up, but stands out in a field of autobiographical documentaries.
Through home movie footage and audio created and collected over 20 years, we gain access to Jonathan Caouette’s life, his mentally ill mother (who received a battery of electroshock therapy in her pre-teen years), and his experiences of growing up gay.
Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, compares it to the Up series:
“[The Up series] makes it clear … that the child is indeed the father of the man; every one of its subjects is already, at 7, a version of the adult they would become. Tarnation is like Caouette’s version of that process, in which the young boy, play-acting, dressing up, dramatizing the trauma in his life, is able to deal with it.”
The film was a festival hit in 2004, but was also famously pieced together with a budget of $218.32 using Apple’s free iMovie software, heralding an age of self-documentation and easy access to professional-quality post-production.