Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Grave Humor: Championed by John Cameron Mitchell, Jonathan Caouette's Crazy, Confessional Film Tarnation Is Moving Gay and Straight Audiences to Tears and Laughter

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Grave Humor: Championed by John Cameron Mitchell, Jonathan Caouette's Crazy, Confessional Film Tarnation Is Moving Gay and Straight Audiences to Tears and Laughter

Article excerpt

When he was 11, Texas native Jonathan Caouette filmed himself delivering an astonishing monologue as an abused wife. He was inspired, he says now, by an episode of The Bionic Woman and by his own mother, who by that tram had been in and out of mental hospitals for decades. When he was 12 Caouette smoked a joint laced with PCP and formaldehyde and wound up in file hospital himself. By age 14 he was sneaking into gay bars and clubs disguised as a goth girl. Last year, as a struggling actor living in New York City, he was working as a doorman and appealing for flee in awful student films.

These are not things most young gay men would want to share even with then" boyfriends. Caouette has shared it with the world by putting it all into a confessional documentary, about his family called Tarnation, a work championed by out filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) that became the sensation of the Sun dance and Cannes film festivals. "My life has led to my wanting to come up with some pretty far-out stuff as far as creating art," says Caouette, 31. "So it could be a blessing in disguise. But, maybe not."

Brilliantly edited--on his boyfriend's IMac--from 160 hours of family films, homemade videotapes, and new footage, Tarnation is the anti-Beautiful Mind: an unvarnished portrait of overcoming mental illness and abuse that's gripping, disturbing, and often downright funny--all without that sentimental Hollywood gloss. "It's about how being a freak, inadvertently, can save you from the dark circumstances in which you might find yourself," says executive producer Mitchell "I think a lot of gay kids can understand that."

As Caouette continues to grapple with music rights for the film's October theatrical release--quirky pop songs are vital to the films ultimately upbeat impact--he spoke with The Advocate by phone from his Queens, N.Y., apartment.

Is Tarnation a "gay film"?

I think it's a film about a lot of things, and I just happen to be gay. So, no. It's probably more My Own Private Idaho meets, like, Grey Gardens or something, with a little bit of Wonder Woman. Gay people tend to want to candycoat a lot of things. We don't like to deal with issues like this. So I hope it's going to be a way for a lot of gay men and women to say, "It's OK to be crazy and to come from this [background]. There can be more dimensions to you."

You've talked about how you always felt like the outsider in your family.

Always. And the outsider in everything: in the gay world and even in the gay punk world. …

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