OPENING NIGHT, a film by John Casavettes and TARNATION, a documentary by Jonathan Caouette

Opening NightTarnation
(Google Bilder)

When I was seventeen I could do anything.
It was so easy… My emotions were so close to the surface.
I am finding harder and harder to stay in touch…

(Gena Rowlands in Opening Night by John Casavetes)

Your greatest creation
is the life you lead

(Tarnation, a film by Jonathan Caouette)

Both Casavettes film and Caouette´s documentary deal with performance as a way to handle one´s own feelings and life experience. Jonathan Caouette says that film saved his life, since it was the way he found to reorganize his toughts and experiences and make some sense out of his childhood and teenage years. He started to document his own life at the age of 11. Film has helped him to deal with traumatic events, such as witnessing his mother being raped as a yound boy. His complete self-exposure through the medium film is for him something of a necessity, a survival strategy. He plays with facts from his biography, addressing his mother´s mental clinic history and his own sexuality at the same time.

This exposure finds a parallel in Myrtle´s process to understand and deal with her character in John Casavettes´ film. Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) is a talented middle aged stage actress, playing Virginia, a middle aged woman. As an actor surrounded by other actors, the difference between real emotion and performance becomes blurred for Myrtle. She starts to dillusion under the pressure of playing a role on stage that forces her to come in terms with her own age. She is also off balance due to the death of a fan that had come to see her on opening night and ends up run over by a car in front of the theater. Myrtle builds a phantasy around this second seventeen-year-old woman, who becomes her double throughout the entire film.

Myrtle´s struggle is about finding a creative way to play her character Virginia, dettaching herself from the age constraint. And so she subjects herself to a process of research which is also a process of self agression and destruction, which goes from alcohol consumption, to allucinations and self-injure. Myrtle will finally be able to coupe with the role at the end of the film. On the opening night in New York, though she arrives at the theater falling-down drunk, she proceeds to work her way through the opening-night performance. Gradually sobering up, she gains control of herself by the final scene of the play and finds a creative solution, by forcing her stage partner to improvise and discuss openly former emotional problems between the two, in face of an audience.

Both film and documentary deal with theatricality, with playing a role, with the fluidity of identity as a performative process. This concern with performing, strongly relates to an on-going blurring between reality and fiction, and how we crescently make use of the medium film in order to both objectify our lives and dettach ourselves from it, and build fictions around ourselves and the world around us. And this is why, Jonathan Caouette says: „Your greatest creation is the life you lead“. And because reality and truth are no longer nowhere to be found Myrtle states that she finds it harder and harder to stay in touch with her own emotions, probably because they are trapped inside mediality – a topic that has been extensively explored, also by Lynch´s last film, „Inland Empire“.

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