Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Here's the short of the story on Catfish, the documentary (or "reality thriller" as it's interesting, if disingenuous marketing would rather it be referred to) that has sparked debate since debuting at this years Sundance Film Festival.  The debate is tricky to get into without spoiling the twist, or trick of Catfish, so I will try to tread lightly.  First we meet a man named Nev Schulman, a New York photographer who recently got published in a syndicated newspaper, he's young and attractive in a goofy sense.  Nev's slight notoriety earns him a young 8-year-old fan from Michigan-- her name is Abby.  She's a gifted painter, and through Abby, Nev meets her family via Facebook.  Her mother Angela, and older sister Megan, a virginal hottie where a bonafide viral romantic relationship starts to develop.

What starts off as a sort of a lowbrow sociological experiment of the ramifications of our computerized and Facebook culture turns into a fishier tale of cinematic manipulation.  The problem with Catfish is, who exactly is manipulating whom?  Nev is followed around by his brother Ariel (a NYC film grad) and co-director Henry Joot documenting the relationship for about eight months, and if in fact we the audience aren't exactly getting "Punk'd," then certainly liberties were taken in the editing room.  That's not exactly a crime in of itself, documentaries, like narratives, will always use filmmaking tools (camera work, editing, music, lighting) to manipulate "reality" in order to make their point.  Yet still, there's a bitter aftertaste after watching Catfish, and I'm quite sure where it came from, but it might have something to do the antithetical meeting of camera-ready Nev with the non-equipped and "real" Michigan family.  The folks at Rogue Pictures and Relativity Media seem intent on marketing the film as a thriller, which in it's own way adds to the bitterness-- the ending feels more sad than scary.  Then again, perhaps the whole experience is to feel duped.

That being said, even if Catfish is nothing but a prank, it's a well made one.  The filmmakers cleverly embed the online world as visual referencing points.  Making good cinematic use of GoogleMaps and YouTube.  C+

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