Šejp-šifting horror-zabava i životna horror-tragedija.
All Flowers in Time from Centre Phi | Phi Centre on Vimeo.
After causing something of a sensation with his debut feature Tarnation, director Jonathan Caouette went and got himself all weirded up for his subsequent Chloe Sevigny starring short film All Flowers In Time. How weird? Well, here's the official synopsis:
Yep, this is essentially Caouette doing the sort of thing David Lynch hasn't done for quite some time now and doing it quite well. The short was fairly divisive amongst critics on its festival run - I quite like it, myself - and now you can judge for yourself with the full piece embedded below. - Todd Brown"I am not from this place" declares a French cowboy. An old toothless man asks, "Do you know why you're here?". These shape shifting personalities infect young children with an evil signal in the form of a Dutch TV show. The red eyed girls and boys believe they can now become other people and monsters much to their delight.
When Jonathan Caouette appeared on the film scene with Tarnation in 2003 response was sharply divided between those who felt Caouette was a genius and those who thought he was simply self indulgent. Expect the same response to his latest effort, All Flowers In Time.
Caouette has kept a surprisingly low profile since Tarnation, directing only a pair of documentary shorts and co-directing a documentary about music festival All Tomorrow's Parties in the years since. And given that Tarnation itself was a quasi-doc then All Flowers In Time represents something entirely new for the director in that the doc form is shed entirely in favor of a surreal, fractured narrative.
Borrowing liberally from the David Lynch playbook, AFIT is a sort of abstract riff on the red-eye phenomenon of flash photography and the obsessive idea that maybe we get red-eye not because of reflected light but because we've got demons living within us. There's no true narrative to speak of, the film structured instead as a sort of elliptical series of moments morphing from one to the next, the most significant portion of the film anchored by Chloe Sevigny.
Caouette mashes styles together throughout, at moments showcasing a sharp, absurd sense of humor, at others a legitimately unsettling sort of hyper-reality, at others jamming stuff in seemingly purely because he can. The rapidly shifting styles don't always mesh well together and Caouette could arguably stand to learn that sometimes less can be more and that a bit of self restraint can be the most effective play. That said the man's technical ability and creative vision is undeniable. Though flawed All Flowers In Time is an interesting progression for Caouette and an intriguing promise of things to come. - Todd Brown
Eksperimentalna naučno-fantastična horor-misterija All Flowers in Time, čiju žanrovsku odrednicu treba uzeti sa rezervom (i koja nema nikakve veze sa Buckleyjevom pesmom All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun), zlokobno je otelotvorenje iščašenih i uskomešanih vizija, začetih u jednoj od najzapuštenijih odaja ljudske podsvesti. Iako se može okarakterisati kao mračna parabola o negativnom uticaju televizijskih medija na decu i mlade, zbunjenom i zaprepašćenom gledaocu ostavlja zamršeno klupko pitanja bez (jasnog) odgovora.
Nelinearna i nekoherentna "priča" usredsređuje se na (kobne?) posledice infekcije, izazvane konzumiranjem krajnje bizarnog holandskog (!) rijaliti šoua, u kojem se govori o crvenim očima na fotografijama, a koji odjavljuje nasmejani Francuski Kauboj, neljudskim baritonom poručujući da "nije sa ovih prostora". I dok (imaginarni?) razgovor sa bezubim starcem situaciju čini još čudnijom i apsurdnijom, vrhunac ove trinaestominutne minijature predstavlja igra pravljenja zastrašujućih grimasa, u kojoj po završetku omiljene emisije učestvuju dečak Chandler i njegova starija sestra (ili dadilja?) Holly.
Nakon psihodelično-relaksirajuće uvodne špice, u kojoj kroz raznobojne oblačke dima vidimo nasmejano, a potom ozbiljno lice Chloë Sevigny, reditelj nas odvodi u središte lavirinta izgrađenog od napuklih fragmenata iskrivljene stvarnosti i najgorih košmara. Krećući se krivudavom stazom koju je utabao David Lynch, on vešto sklapa uznemirujuć nadrealistički omaž-mozaik, koji poput psihološkog sklopa, ali i fizičkog izgleda dvoje protagonista neprestano menja svoj oblik. Uz kreativnu montažu digitalnih i super-8 snimaka, ne uvek ubedljive, ali svrsishodne kompjuterske efekte i zvučni sudar turobnih dronova, klasične i alternativne muzike, Caouette postiže dezorijentišuću, napetu i prilično jezivu atmosferu, na tragu one iz Bulevara zvezda (Mulholland Drive, 2001) ili Unutrašnjeg carstva (Inland Empire, 2006). - Nikola Gocić
That's the story of my life
Jonathan Caouette's extraordinary autobiographical documentary is artful and intense
In 1991, in Hearts of Darkness, a documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now, Francis Coppola predicted that in the near future a teenage black girl somewhere in America would make a masterpiece using only a home video camera. Something like this has come to pass with Tarnation, a 90-minute autobiographical documentary made by Jonathan Caouette, a 32-year-old gay Texan living in New York.
It's compiled from footage shot on various cameras, ranging from a Super 8 to mini-DVD, that he's owned or borrowed to record his life since the age of eight. This he's accompanied by family snapshots, clips from feature films and audio tapes, all edited on an iMac computer using accompanying Apple software. It was made for the suspiciously exact sum of $218.32, though infinitely more than this was spent on enhancing the soundtrack at George Lucas's Skywalker studio and blowing the picture up to 35mm for a wide distribution after its success at the Sundance Festival.
Thematically, the film is like a combination of two recent major documentaries - Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans, a study of a dysfunctional American family obsessed with recording their own lives, and My Architect: A Son's Journey, Nathaniel Kahn's search for his late father's identity. But it differs from them in the personal intensity of its director and the deliberately ragged, underground way the material is assembled, as if to confront and overwhelm the viewer with raw truth. In fact, it is artfully composed, starting with the flashback form. It begins with Caouette getting news in New York in 2002 that his mother, the deeply disturbed Renée, has taken an overdose of lithium down in Houston, Texas. Returning to the home he'd left in 1997, he introduces us to his family and reviews his and their lives in overlapping chapters. Instead of a spoken narration, large titles give us a third of a sentence at a time.
His grandparents, Adolph and Rosemary, married in the early 1950s, owned a moderately profitable grocery store until it was burnt down. They had a daughter, Renée, who, as a child, enjoyed considerable local success modelling and performing on TV. Then she fell off a roof and was paralysed for six months. Doctors recommended twice-weekly electric shock treatment for her subsequent depression. The long-term effect of this brutal therapy was that she suffered from severe bipolarism and schizo-affective disorder and spent years in and out of institutions. But in the early Seventies, she married Steve Caouette, a door-to-door salesman, who fled, never to return, before their son, Jonathan, was born. For the next 20 years, Jonathan was jolted around like the steel sphere in a pinball machine. Briefly in an orphanage and enduring a succession of abusive foster parents, he was eventually adopted by his grandparents, who were themselves in serious decline.
Throughout the narrative, Jonathan refers to himself in the third person, a way of dramatising the 'depersonalisation disorder' that was either caused or permanently enhanced by smoking marijuana spiked with the lethal hallucinogen, PCP. Drugs, gay bars, the cinema (both popular and underground) and making home movies were his ways of escape, his strategies for distancing himself from this terrible world.
We see examples of the way in which, at the age of 11, he adopted different personas to address the camera and gradually found a vocation as artist and performer amid the chaos of his life. Some of it is frightening, some extremely funny, as, for instance, the musical version of David Lynch's Blue Velvet he directed at his Texas high school, with the cast miming to Marianne Faithfull songs. Some of it is baffling and irritating in the manner of those 1960s psychedelic pictures that set out to tax the eyeballs and send the mind reeling.
The gay scene in Houston would seem to have been both extensive and guilt-free, quite different from what we know of the gay experience in middle America for previous generations. The 14-year-old Jonathan was able to dress up, often in drag, and get into bars restricted to patrons over 18. The schoolteacher he filmed while producing his Blue Velvet musical appears aware of what is afoot. His flight to New York was an escape from his family, but less a way of coming out than a professional move to advance his career as an artist.
Tarnation is without self-pity. Caouette is able to view his life with astonishing objectivity as a kind of comedy, and the film is more openly matter-of-fact than coyly confessional. Some searching questions enrage his grandparents and lead them to demand he switch off the camera. There are times when sustaining a shot (of, for instance, Renée babbling incoherently) seems cruel. Yet the movie expresses the love Jonathan feels for his mother and grandparents and he resists commenting on his callous, delinquent father, Steve, when he brings him to a reunion in New York.
Tarnation is produced by Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell, gay directors who have moved from the underground to independent film-making and towards the mainstream. One wonders what direction Jonathan Caouette's career will now take.
My life, the horror movie
Jonathan Caouette had a wretched childhood. His father vanished. His mother was in and out of mental hospitals. Foster parents abused him. Rather than shut his eyes to this car crash of a life, the boy began to film it. Gareth McLean meets the director of America's hottest documentary.
When Jonathan Caouette was 12, a drug dealer friend of his mother's gave him a joint laced with formaldehyde and PCP. After smoking it, he found himself in hospital, and then diagnosed with a dissociative disorder. He was left feeling separate from himself, as if he was living in a dream. Detached.That feeling coloured his teenage years. At 13, he began masquerading as an older goth girl to get into gay clubs. With a borrowed Super-8 camera, he starred in his own horror films, often pursued by a friend brandishing a butcher's knife. At high school, he staged a musical version of David Lynch's Blue Velvet in which his classmates lip-synched to Marianne Faithfull songs. Caouette's life was characterised by him not being him, by a sense of estrangement. All was pretence, performance.
This is terrible and weird, of course, but it's hard to say for sure whether Caouette's detachment from life began when he smoked a spiked spliff. Growing up gay in Houston, Texas, a ventricle of America's Republican heartland, he hardly felt at home. "Being young and gay, you're already detached from your surroundings because no one knows what you're really like. I don't recommend growing up gay, or being an artist, in Texas - certainly not back then." Still, Caouette wasn't coy. "I always told people I was gay, even when I wasn't sure. It was a way to see if the fabric of the universe would crumble around me if I said those words. Being around these southern Baptist people, I wanted to see what would happen."
So Caouette worked to appear "flamboyant" and "artistic", acquiring a boyfriend while still at school, and experimenting with female personas, something many men, gay and straight, will recognise from their own pursuit of identity.
When he was 11, his grandfather bought him a video camera from the local pawn shop. This would prove a pivotal moment in Caouette's life, the camera a shield and a weapon. The first thing he did was record a striking monologue in lipstick and a headscarf. Playing what in those days was called a battered wife, he sobbed and squealed for the camera, relating the abuse inflicted on his fictional housewife Hilary Chapman Laura-Lou Gourina by her no-good redneck husband, Jimmy. It was, he says, inspired by an episode of The Bionic Woman in which the heroine is committed to a psychiatric hospital by her evil doppelgänger. Cracking up in her melodramatic, primetime way, actor Lindsay Wagner reminded Caouette of his mother, Renee.
Like many of us, Caouette is proof of Philip Larkin's parenting theory. His tendency to dissociation may reasonably be judged the coping technique of a troubled child in a tormented family. When she was 12, Renee - a polished jewel of a girl, a juvenile model, a beauty queen - fell off the roof of her house, losing the use of her legs.
Six months later, her parents, Rosemary and Adolph, believed Renee's continuing incapacity was psychosomatic and, on the advice of a friend, submitted their daughter to electroshock therapy. Twice a week for two years. She emerged from her treatments with bipolar and schizo-affective disorders. Her legs were again in full working order, but it has since been acknowledged that she would probably have regained use of them anyway. Her disability had been the result of a trapped nerve. In the following 35 years, Renee was institutionalised more than 100 times. In 1977, during one of Renee's psychotic episodes, mother and son ended up on the streets of Chicago, where Renee was raped. Caouette, then five, witnessed his mother's assault.
His father absent since before he was born, Caouette was mostly raised by his maternal grandparents, but, when he was taken into foster care between the ages of four and six, he was bound and beaten by those who were supposed to be looking after him. He says Rosemary and Adolph were more misguided than malicious in their treatment of Renee. "There was never a moment when I thought that they didn't love each other or me. Even with the shock treatments my grandparents inflicted on my mother, I never thought that was out of vindictiveness. I just thought they had their own idiosyncrasies, that they were prone to the power of suggestion. It's weird, but I still don't blame them. They were always very loving."
Nevertheless, a trailer park-full of country songs couldn't recount the crap hand dealt to Caouette - or, indeed, to Renee. His film Tarnation, by contrast, does. It's the documentary/diary Caouette made from the hours and hours of Super-8 film and home video he recorded over 20 years until two years ago, as well as family photographs, clips from TV shows and movies, bits of pop songs, even answering machine messages.
Caouette's fascination with film goes back as far as he can remember. The clubs that he sneaked into "would have these lock-ins and show us crazy movies while we drank strawberry virgin margaritas". He saw John Waters' cult shlockfest Pink Flamingos along with Andy Warhol movies and those of fellow Factory artist Paul Morrissey. He would also go to the movies with his grandfather, taking a tape machine to record the soundtrack. "And then we'd go to our local drugstore, he would buy me a big stack of drawing paper and markers, and I would draw out the movie."
Like many young boys, Caouette loved horror: Halloween, The Exorcist and the original Stepford Wives were among his favourite movies. But he was also interested in the mechanics of film - "the reel changes and sound pops". Before long he turned the camera on himself and his family.
This may or may not be connected with his dissociative condition: Caouette concedes that by filming events, he distanced himself from them, exercising control (imagined or otherwise) over them. "In a weird way, filming replaced the lack of control in my life; it gave my life structure."
An extraordinary, ethereal memoir, Tarnation chronicles Caouette's relationships with Renee and his grandparents Rosemary and Adolph, the mess of his chaotic childhood and his development from girlie boy into gay man in the deep south. It tells how he grew up with his mother and how in recent years he has tried to care for her and his ageing grandparents. Tender, tragic and sometimes weird, it is a confessional collage, a melding of pop culture references and fragments of other films. The implication is clear: this is all that any of us is.
And it's a hit, however improbable. Caouette decided to put together Tarnation for an experimental film festival in New York. In three weeks, and with his Apple computer's iMovie software, he did so - for $218, a figure now legendary in lo-tech film-making circles. An early cut of Tarnation caught the eyes of directors Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell, and, with their backing, it caught the imaginations of critics and audiences. Caouette found himself on the festival circuit, going from Sundance to Cannes (where the film got a 10-minute ovation) to London and Los Angeles. Weighed down with accolades and prizes, he's now a darling of style magazines and the gay press, as well as DIY film-makers. Before all this, he was an aspiring actor in New York. Which is to say, a doorman.
Caouette is still taken aback by this sudden fame. "I wake up in the middle of the night wondering what I've done. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster, you know? I'd be lying if I said that everything's fine, it's been a cathartic thing, and now I'm ready to move on."
Crumpled and squinting on this too-sunny London Sunday morning, Caouette slips into psychobabble. "It's a weird dichotomy of karma that's happening right now. Here I am going round the world when I have so many personal responsibilities that I have to get back to as soon as possible. My mother and my grandfather are in dire straits at the moment [Rosemary died in 1997]. They could both die if I don't get home very soon. My grandfather, because he's older, and my mother because she's still having repercussions from the lithium overdose she took."
It's with Renee's overdose in March 2002 that Tarnation's dreamy, non-linear narrative kicks off, an event that propels Caouette back to the messiness he left behind in Texas. Does he feel that with Tarnation he's exploiting his mother?
"No, because I didn't know I was making the movie; I've been making the movie for 20 years. There's the occasional journalist who has said I'm whoring out my mother for my own fame, but I think that's a crock of shit. I'll get accused of exploitation, of narcissism, of exhibitionism, but I don't care." He does admit, however, that there was definitely "some reluctance to put the film out there".
"Something would be wrong if I didn't question that notion. One of my biggest fears, as we were looking for distribution, was that it would be made into a freak show by whoever picked it up, that they would position it, and me, in a way that would see us ultimately buffooned. But I don't think that's happened."
Caouette says that Renee, aged beyond her 53 years by the horrors of her life, has seen the film several times and loves it. Indeed, he maintains that Tarnation is a taboo-busting film. "It shows a slice of life that's not talked about, stuff that's so brushed under the carpet. Mental illness has been whitewashed by Hollywood; I wanted to show what it's really like. I often think about what my mother could have been." He stubs out his cigarette, the latest in a long chain on the day he's supposed to quit, to emphasise what he says next. "I would never want another version of her, though. In spite of all the chaos - everything that I've been through, everything I've seen my mother go through - there's this air of love and forgiveness that you can see in the film. There's no anger in the film, certainly not any directed anger."
This is one of the odd things about Tarnation and Caouette - he doesn't seem to blame his grandparents for what happened to Renee, nor the authorities. This is perhaps the result of his unorthodox upbringing. "Outside my family, I didn't understand what the rest of the world was like. I knew my family wasn't normal - that was always very apparent when I went to my friends' houses and their mom was a soccer mom and they were serving melon balls. The older I got, the more I became aware. It was sort of like growing up in a religious cult, and I've had to deprogramme myself." He seems to have made a good job of it: Tarnation has been called "at once the record and the instrument of his survival".
Caouette, who is now 32, says he doesn't have his dissociative disorder any more - "or at least, if it does still exist, it's very subtle". He has also, mostly, stopped filming his life. "If I was to continue filming every aspect, I wouldn't be able to experience it emotionally." He is now happily settled with his boyfriend, David, who, naturally, stars in Tarnation. "We have an actual monogamous relationship, which is practically unheard of for a gay relationship in New York City. We've been together for seven years, with no bumps or bruises. I'd been looking for stability for a long time and I've found it with him." Finally attached.
He's also spending more time with his 10-year-old son, Josh. Yes, Caouette is full of surprises, not all of which are documented in Tarnation. "I'd known Joan since we were both 16 and we got into this bizarre sexual relationship. I don't justify it, I don't question it, but Josh is the result of it, and he's beautiful. I saw him recently in Texas and he's such an eccentric prodigy of a child. We were doing a Q&A about the film at the Museum of Fine Art and he started doing this fake sign language - exactly the sort of thing I probably would have done."
Does he worry for Josh's wellbeing, given his ancestry? "He's hard-wired like me, but he'll never end up like me. He didn't have to deal with all the insanity. He's got an amazingly bright, well-adjusted mom and I can't wait to finally be his dad."
What sort of dad will that be? There's still a certain fluidity about Caouette's identity."There really isn't anyone of sound mind in my family for me to get information from," he says. "I literally don't know where we come from." He's still coming to terms with the mythology he built around his father, who makes only a brief appearance in Tarnation and is uncomfortable dealing with Renee and Caouette. "He abandoned me and I always thought would rescue me. But he wasn't the person I fantasised about; I think that's the case with a lot of kids and their parents who aren't around."
Now, though, he is keen to get back home, even if he's not looking forward to the flight. "I have to sedate myself, even on short trips. If I don't, I'm imagining the plane exploding. I can hear it, smell the fuel, feel my skin peeling off - the whole thing. I freak out if I see nuns or priests or hear babies crying, because I think they foreshadow something." He smiles, impishly. "That's being a victim of popular culture. It's seeing horror films too early. I'm scarred for life." - www.theguardian.com/
All Tomorrow’s Parties (2009)