I wouldn't wish Jonathan Caouette's life on anyone. Raised by a single mother who herself was left brain-damaged by ill-advised electroshock therapy treatments, he bounced around abusive foster homes until eventually winding up with his grandparents, whose behavior was also questionable. Obviously aware of his sexuality and sensing his life was a little different from an early age, he started filming himself and his surroundings.

This documentary splices together those fragments of Caouette's life as if it were a "This Is Your Life" documentary reimagined by Kenneth Anger or Derek Jarman. He audaciously, deliriously combines photographs and home video footage with snippets of signifying TV shows, movies, and pop songs, often in a kaleidoscopic whirl of ironic juxtapose (Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" brilliantly, brutally accompanies one particularly disturbing montage), bleeding images and dreamlike video special effects. Although structured as a journal-like narrative, the results feel more poetic and associative.

Like CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (only with the director as its subject), this film isn't an easy one to quickly process, for it raises many unavoidable questions. Why does Caouette narrate the film mostly in third-person subtitles instead of his own voice-over? At what point did he comprehend that he was consciously constructing what would become this film? Is he exploiting his family (and himself) or documenting them? Most importantly, is what we're seeing genuine or something not entirely unstaged for the camera? TARNATION may frustrate viewers with these questions, but I thought it was equally fascinating because it brings them up in the first place. It begs/requires you to gradually piece together what you've seen much in the way Caouette stitched together this film.

Given how popular this film may ultimately prove and continual advances in user-friendly technology (this was edited with iMovie, a basic, inexpensive computer program), we may see a lot of TARNATION imitations to come. But for all of its ethical conundrums, Caouette's film sets the bar admirably high for this type of approach: his collages are by turns amusing, startling, uncomfortable and downright cathartic.