What a day. It was a continuous monsoon outside, which made it not worth going anywhere. My girlfriend and I responded by getting under blankets and putting on sweats and watching a bizarre double feature, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy followed by the monumentally depressing Tarnation.
Hitchhiker's, despite displaying some real visual imagination and being well-cast, was probably the worst of all of the different versions of the story. I'm sure I'm biased, since I grew up on the books and on the BBC miniseries as it was re-run on PBS. However, I'm no superfan of Douglas Adams's work. I recognize that it probably just seemed especially keen to me since I was 12 years old or so at the time. Still, the choices that first-time feature director Garth Jennings made with the material were strange. Why bring in material from all of the Hitchhiker books when you only have the length of a feature film? And why bring in extra material and change things needlessly? All four of the leads were great though. Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox was especially inspired. And the art-direction and creature design were great to look at. The movie was just a bit all-over-the-place and unfocused. It would have been better to just actually stick with the first book.
Tarnation was the perfect accompaniment to the gloomy weather outside. I thought it was a good attempt at turning your intimate moments into art though, and an original take on the documentary. I just read some reviews trashing it which make some good points, saying that the amount of material was a bit thin and that the film substituted the fancy editing techniques for content and didn't really give you a feel for the filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's life and times so much as telling you about them. As part of the same MTV generation I actually liked the way it was put together, since that quick cutting and mixing up reality and what you watch on TV is just part of the normal Gen-X thought process. It was sort of the ultimate Gen-X home movie. Did anyone else notice how so many of the techniques and the edits were redolent of horror films, particularly in the early most disturbing part?
If he didn't get most of his family to open in front of the camera it doesn't seem it was for lack of trying but just because they put up such a wall. That difficulty in communicating spoke volumes in and of itself. Tarnation took the raw materials of one seriously messed up family and put them through the blender of every technique from every experimental film and music video you've ever heard of, with mixed results. It may not have been the monument to his mother that Caouette was hoping for, but it's still an impressive documentary that will especially speak to anyone who's ever felt that the pain in their life could best be expressed through the vocabulary of underground music and film.