Film and TV

Jonathan Caouette Debuts Beautiful, Bizarre Short at Third Coast

A strange progression of images makes up Jonathan Caouette's newest film.
Screenshot from The Blazing
A strange progression of images makes up Jonathan Caouette's newest film.
Director Jonathan Caouette is one of Houston’s most beloved sons of cinema. He made a tremendous splash in 2003 with his movie Tarnation, a startling narrative of mental illness cobbled together from his home movies with his mother. His newest film is a 27-minute short called The Blazing, which is as beautiful as it is bizarre. It debuts at the Third Coast (And Other Shores) film festival at Rice Cinema.

Like Tarnation, The Blazing is more of a formless series of vignettes that occupy a film-like shell. In this case, we’re shown scenes of everyday people just living their lives as some sort of mysterious meteor is reported exploding in the atmosphere. It’s heavily implied, though not outright stated, that this is the end of the world, and we are watching its final moments.

“The film was made out of complete alchemy,” says Caouette. “There was this story that I wrote and had been developing as a trans media project from as far back as 2012. About six months into the first COVID wave, my friend Simon Raymonde asked me if I'd like to do a music video for his incredible music collective Lost Horizons. After I made the music videos, I started culling footage from the same source material that the videos were constructed with and began creating and sort of inner workshop this story I had been wanting to get out of my body.”

Caouette is hoping to spin the short into a larger work in the vein of Pink Floyd’s The Wall that he currently calls Solastalgia. The name roughly translates as “memory of the sun,” which sort of leans into the idea of the project as the chronicle of the end of days.

“I can tell you is that the longer version of this story will be made in a very immersive way, riddled with sound design and music to take you through the story,” says Caouette. “And hopefully, it will be on par with something that people have not yet experienced in storytelling as of yet. This is my goal at least.”

Though largely plotless, Caouette has a mesmerizing visual language in The Blazing that conveys a wealth of information without saying a word. His subjects go from laconic to frantic, daylight moves to nighttime, and the normal becomes uncanny. Slowly, images of otherworldliness creep into the film, with people hovering bizarrely and alien geometric shapes roiling and changing. Green fields give way to blasted forests, and home become crime scenes where scientists measure things they obviously don’t understand.

It’s not an easy movie to understand, but it’s a simple enough one to feel your way through. While it may be too abstract for some viewers, The Blazing offers a look at Caouette’s startling evolution as a composer of visual imagery.

Third Coast is a new exploration of short, experimental works done mostly by Houston-based artists. Screening in its new home in Sewall Hall, Rice Cinema is presenting the program both in person and virtually. Other artists include Paige Taul (Goat), Wolf MacLean (Terrell James), Livia Sa (Land in Sight), Ufuoma Essi (Bodies in Dissent), Cuyler Ballenger (Dumpster 4), Malena Szlam (Merapi), and Abinadi Meza (Time Crystals). Caouette will be on hand for a Q&A.

“I cannot imagine having this film premier anywhere else but here,” says Caouette. “It was constructed during COVID in my childhood home here. This festival is amazing for a gazillion magical reasons. Really magical.”

The Blazing premiers as part of Third Coast (And Other Shores), presented by the Houston Cinema Arts Society, on Sunday, November 14 at the Rice Cinema, 6100 Main (Sewell 301). Suggested parking in the Founders Court lot. For more information, visit Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test no more than 48 hours old are required to attend. $20.