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Tarnation is a great documentary.  It is original.  It is a provocative 88-minute experience that immerses the viewer in a very personal world.

Tarnation’s fragmented narrative construction, emotional videography and editing mimic the fragmented narrative/life of Jonathan Caouette and his family.  Tarnation is a story about a subjective experience of reality, told by the person who lives it.  Its power is found in Caouette’s relationship to the camera and ultimately himself.  The camera is his witness.

“When I’m half asleep, there’s this plethora of information that rushes into my mind’s eye,” he said, describing his method. “It’s like a waking dream or a song or a story or a poem or a series of images, and it makes sense for just a second and then it dissipates and you think, ‘Hey, what was that?’ I wanted to take that experience and hold onto it with this film.” He has achieved his goal in “Tarnation,” which manages to seem wild and raw but also carefully constructed.’ The Man Who Was Raised by a Movie Camera by Julie Salamon.  New York Times September 26, 2004

In reading interviews with Jonathan and knowing that his life long documentation collected more than 88 minutes of tape I imagined that this story could exist in all it’s versions and subplots online or as an installation. Though I love the closure of a single channel narrative the multi-channel expression if this particular work seems like a fitting if not practical expansion.

Mr. Caouette speaks wistfully of various subplots that were lost in the effort to whittle the film down to its current 88 minutes. One piece that was cut was the surprising revelation that he has a 9-year-old son. “His mom is this girl I’ve known since I was 16, and we were really, really, really good friends,” he explained. Then, with a smile, he added, “It’s a very long story.” The producers thought it might be confusing, since Mr. Caouette establishes his gay identity early in the film, and his lover, David Sanin Paz, plays an important role. Mr. Caouette’s two step-brothers – one from his mother, one from his father – also had to go. “You should see the two-and-a-half-hour version,” he said. Tracing a 20-Year Odyssey Across Hope and Despair, A. O. SCOTT.  New York Times October 5, 2004

An on-line installation may facilitate a living documentary.  The filmmaker may upload and present footage as it is shot.  The multi-narrative presentation structure allows for more frequent performances as well as the potential to shoot in relation to audience reactions and may include a space for viewers to upload their own personal stories – producing a living web.  The themes of this living documentary would include but not be limited to: family, dysfunction, identity, sexuality, love, shock therapy, personal experience of mental health, the mental health care system etc…

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