I have a song called “Ice Pulse” by the Cocteau Twins stuck in my head.
This is because I went to see ‘Tarnation’ at the weekend with Mr Frog. We had seen a documentary about it on Canal+ and I felt it was a film that definitely deserved to be seen on a big screen with surround sound. I wasn’t wrong.
Of course if you live in the UK/US/anywhere but France, you probably saw this flim aeons ago. For some reason it has only just been released here. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so.
The director, Jonathan Caouette, has assembled footage of his family from the past twenty years (photos, Super8 footage, video) and set it to a soundtrack of music, answering machine messages and letters to tell the story of his life so far. Caouette had a disturbed childhood to say the least: his mother Renée suffered from mental illness (possibly caused by a series of shock treatments ill-advisedly administered in her teens) and was repeatedly institutionalised; infant Jonathan was abused in foster care before being adopted by his grandparents. Having spent a very brief spell in foster care myself, before my adoption as a baby, I cannot find words to describe how livid it makes me to hear of children being abused when they are at their most vulnerable and desperately need support from the adults entrusted with their care.
In spite of the subject matter, ‘Tarnation’ is a very uplifting film: Caouette has faced his demons and although a lingering fear remains that one day he too may suffer from mental illness like Renée, he seems to be in a good place right now with a very supportive partner and, in his own words, he is closer to his mother than ever before.
Unfortunately, four things were nagging at me during the film and marred my enjoyment somewhat.
The first was that I was trying in vain to remember the name of a semi-autobiographical novel I had read which reminded me of this film. I’ve finally found it, after a few google searches that I hope my employer will not hold against me (search terms “trailer trash rent boy”). The book I was thinking of was ‘Sarah’ by J T Leroy. Apparently I’m not the only one to have made this connection as I found an article on the interweb where Caouette and Leroy are interviewed together.
The second thing was that the complete stranger on my left and I laughed at all the same things (in particular, Caouette’s staging of a musical version of Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ at high school, to a soundtrack of Marianne Faithful songs), while the Frog didn’t react at all. I started to wonder whether we were soulmates after all. But then I reminded myself that he is and will always remain a philistine (he has never read a work of fiction in all the years I have known him and generally prefers films which have a car chase/a shoot out/both) and I don’t suppose he will ever change. And if I’m honest, I quite like feeling culturally superior to him.
Thirdly, the Frog had purchased a large tub of (salty) popcorn and this was not a popcorn film. The French, you see, take their cinema rather seriously. Small art-house cinemas abound in the capital where popcorn is not even on sale. In this instance, although we were in a UGC cinema, which ressembles a Warner Bros or similar in the UK, most people in the audience were not eating and drinking. There appears to be an unwritten rule about the type of film in which popcorn is permissible (e.g. a Hollywood blockbuster) and the type of film where it is not. So I found myself snatching handfulls of popcorn surreptitiously during the loud music bits (because we hadn’t yet eaten and it was too tempting) but feeling very guilty and conspicuous and un-French for doing so.
And to top it all off, I needed the loo. From about half an hour into the film (it was 88 minutes long). And when the final credits rolled, I couldn’t even sprint to the bathroom because I needed to see what the name of the Cocteau Twins song was.
And that brings us full circle…