A-Z: C is for Catfish


Like 2007’s Paranormal Activity, the documentary Catfish (C) has become an Internet sensation, a certain orange fish littering Internet browsers everywhere. Unlike the mockumentary horror that rode its popularity to nationwide box office success in 2009, claims to be a real documentary, a subject of contention among the populace. It doesn’t help that, going into it, most of us don’t know what it’s about. Besides the cryptic Jesus fish title image and being known as “the other Facebook movie,” the media barrage was not very forthcoming with the details. There was, in addition, the advertising image of the two protagonists of this supposedly true tale–the Internet flirters Nev and Megan–who look like doppelgangers for one another. It confuses me in a way the advertisers probably don’t want.

Up until the film’s release, all anyone knew about C was the synopsis that NY-based photographer Nev begins an ongoing conversation with a young girl who sends him original paintings of his photographs. Nev makes friends with members of the girl’s family, including her attractive older stepsister, Megan, with which he begins a flirtation. Then SURPRISE! You are hit over the head with a complete change in tone and context that will apparently leave you reeling. The trailer operates on the same mystery, starting off casual and quaint, moving to suspense, and leaves you hanging. Now that the film has been released intermittently throughout the States, the mystery is beginning to unfold around the Net. What I mean by that is, if you want to see this movie, beware spoiler-ridden reviews; the ending is being ruined all over the place, including on the film’s Wiki page. 

Having had the movie ruined for me–no tragedy–I know that C is essentially two movies. The one you may have read about before going into the theatre, and the one you will be talking about when you leave. I can’t be sure if the human element of the story or the climactic shock the trailer warns audiences about will be the axis of entertainment for this film. It could also be that C aims to shock you with that very human element, as it is represented by social networking–the worlds where we play out infinite versions of ourselves, desires, wish fulfillment, and so on. All a fantasy, which is really just another word for fake.

Is C real or fake? This is a question being asked about more than one documentary this year. A contender for the Academy’s Best Documentary category is Exit Through the Gift Shop, the film about Banksy wannabe Mr. Brainwash, made by Banksy. Some are calling it the best art attack the graffiti artist has ever staged, duping audiences and the art world alike with what is really a mockumentary–but the jury’s still out. No longer advertising it’s truthiness, Casey Affleck has confirmed that the Joaquin Pheonix bender that is I’m Still Here is in fact, a fiction. To receive acting consideration come Oscar time, Affleck’sISH had to be outed. The real question is, if amateur, handycam C turns out not to be real, does it have a chance against the exquisitely realized fantasies that will be recognized with Best Picture nominations this year (Black SwanInception)? I doubt it.

It could be that C is more like Waiting For Superman, a real story with staged elements. Then the question becomes how much of a movie has to be real for it to be real? C is a low-budget documentary that perhaps raises more eyebrows than it should because you meet and see the makers of the film (Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost), making them more fallible in your eyes. Part of the persuasive quality of documentaries are their perceived authority, achieved with faceless narration, and direct viewer-to-subject connection. What viewers sometimes don’t realize, is that a director and film crew has worked really hard to frame a narrative and message for you without making it obvious that they have done so. A two hour window on any event or issue is never the whole story. Perhaps the only way C can be vindicated as non-fiction, is to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

[via The Awl]