September 22, 2010
Apparently, back in the day, traders would put catfish in barrels of cod, to keep them fresh and alert. Everyone needs a catfish around, to keep them on their toes.
– A paraphrased lesson from Vincent, from the film Catfish
(Spoiler alert! I’m not going to give everything away, but this may ruin it for some people so please go read something else if you want a complete surprise in the theater. Then you can come back and finish.)
To tell you the truth, I had no desire to see this film. I hadn’t read anything about it – just saw one trailer that hinted of Blair Witch Project-like shaky-hand horror. I shun anything that even hints at horror. But with free preview passes in hand, I sucked it up and went for research purposes. The pre-movie chatter in the theater buzzed with phrases such as “low budget”, “suspense”, “reality filming, like blair witch project”, “I know for a fact it’s 99% real”, “it’s a fake” and “dangers of social networks”. Before I had a chance to join in, the lights dimmed, the movie began.
If you love shaky-hand horror, you may be dissapointed. There’s nothing gruesome or nerve-bending about Catfish. It’s not a scary flick and not meant to be (although it’s promoted as such). It is mildly disturbing, and well crafted. There’s love, mystery, lies, deception, revelations, loneliness, vulnerability, connection and even some humor – all packaged up perfectly for a hip, ultra-connected audience.
Therein lie a few of the problems.
1. I think millions of people will be upset, expecting a thriller and not getting it. Even my movie-date said he was getting bored towards the end. He really wanted something creepy to be in the garage, or buried in the basement.
2. It’s either a faux documentary or masterfully manipulated. Much debate will ensue, I’m sure.
Although the skeptic in me believes it’s at least partly a faux documentary along with this guy, I also believe that the film makers crafted a moving story that made me want to believe it was real and had me sympathizing with everyone involved – and I can’t argue with that. The way they wove our most familiar Internet influences throughout the story, bringing you into a scene via Google Earth, exposing truth through YouTube videos, and of course, creating and then unraveling an intricate Facebook circle of new, beautiful and ultra talented friends, was poetic. And revealing. While the movie’s twist and the vehicle itself may be what people buzz about, the real takeaway is similar to We Live In Public by Ondi Timoner. Our personal images, data and pure trust in the social web and everyone behind it makes us all more vulnerable than we think. Many of us have serious delusions of privacy and control, yet look at this complex world that one lonely, isolated woman in Michigan created. If Angela really did create the fantasy world the movie portrayed, she is the one who deserves an award.
In the end, I agree with Alison Willmore of IFC:
Everyone should see “Catfish” — not because of the twist, but because of how powerfully and weirdly it speaks to our time, to internet culture and the way it allows the controlled illusion of intimacy. It’s a film about storytelling, about how a lonely Midwestern housewife creates a stageful of invented characters with which to flatter, entice and woo a supposedly sophisticated New Yorker, and who, when that New Yorker’s friends show up at her house with cameras, ends up wresting control of the narrative, not to mention sympathy, from them simply by coming across as more human. And that’s something to see.
Enjoy the Catfish trailer.
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