A twisted pastiche of pain, suffering, and narcissistic indulgence, Tarnation utilizes an MTV-frantic collage of sound and images image (culled from 19 years worth of home movies, amateur short films, phone conversations and confessional first-person interviews) to tell the twisted life story of director Jonathan Caouette. Intensely personal and stylistically striking, this avant-garde documentary functions as Caouette’s uniquely expressionistic autobiography/diary. Born in rural Texas to a mother permanently scarred by teenage electro-shock therapy, the homosexual Caouette grew up in his grandparents’ horrifyingly dysfunctional household, suffering abuse at his grandmother’s hands and – during a trip to Chicago – watching his once-lovely mother get raped. Caouette’s cinematic memoir has no narrative arc to speak of, instead tracing a fairly linear path from his screwed-up childhood to the present day via narration, on-screen text (which proves a handy way to recount his mother’s early years), and juxtaposition – more than almost every film from last year, Tarnation recognizes and exploits our modern capacity for processing, and intuitively forming connections between, rapid-fire images. Given its subject matter, the film is unavoidably indulgent and egotistical, and the director’s heartbreaking (if somewhat emotionally pornographic) story regularly emits a “woe is me” vibe. Yet as a wrenching self-portrait of misery, helplessness, and eventual triumph, it’s also a startlingly original achievement.