Monday, October 18, 2010

Catfish: It Must Be Fake

Though I enjoyed Catfish, and recommend it, I have no intentions of reviewing it. For those who have seen it or care about it, however, I want to weigh in that I think the film, which purports to be a documentary, is a fake - a faux documentary, as some Sundance attendee apparently asserted, the newest major entry in what is becoming an odd little tradition of faux documentaries, largely made up, thus far, of shakycam horror films (The Blair Witch Project, The Fourth Kind, Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism) - tho' I gather the new "documentary" about Joaquin Phoenix's "meltdown," I'm Still Here, has also been outed as a fraud. Catfish - not a horror film, though the trailers I saw made it seem like one - is one of the most subtle and intelligent of these, and the directors are still maintaining its veracity, which most people seem to be accepting... but I don't buy it at all. I don't know what the real deal is, but:

a) The narrative arc is simply too perfect for this not to have been a highly structured experience, plotted long before the cameras rolled. Real life could not be so perfectly, dramatically satisfying. I don't buy the argument from design when it comes to the existence of a supreme being, but in the case of this film...

b) The value of the first half of the film would clearly be negligible without the "surprises" of the second half, raising the obvious question as to why the filmmakers would film so much of the early phases of an online relationship when it only begins to get interesting months later. The filmmakers have responded to this objection, but I don't buy it.

c) There are - as the fellow linked above notes - various things that stretch credibility, like the sustained absence of online research on the filmmakers' part into the truth of their main subject's claims - though I don't think that it is a case of them knowingly exploiting a "wackadoo," as said fellow describes her; I think the wackadoo is in on it, too.

d) By the law of parsimony alone I find it far easier to believe that some of the people shown in the film are actors who are "in" on the fraud than real people who are willing to go public, since some of what people go public about... makes them look like wackadoos, and would surely be regarded as a threat to their relationships and position in the community, especially given that children are involved...

e) I did not in the slightest believe the speech given by Vince that the title is taken from was the spontaneous offerings of someone who appears to be a bit drunk and none-too-perceptive. His story springs unbidden from the void, apropos of nothing, to "accidentally" offer one of those brilliant titles that is entirely enigmatic until you see this very scene - at the climax of the film, no less - creating an enormous resonance when it is unveiled. Part of the reason I don't buy it is that THERE IS NO PRIOR CONVERSATION that I could imagine the tale emerging from; it is presented out of context of any conversation Vince might have been having with the filmmakers, as if the real context in which he is speaking is that of the film. Which, I suspect, it is; I wouldn't be surprised if the anecdote and title pre-existed the screenplay, were a starting point. The writers of Catfish are clever, but not so clever as to sufficiently motivate this speech.

f) The film fits too well within certain genre conventions for this to be accidental. From David Holzman's Diary and The Connection through Blair Witch, when fictional features present themselves as documentaries, showing us the work of filmmakers who are in fact characters, it is almost always to suggest the filmmakers are in some way morally or perceptually lacking and must be shown that reality is far more complex than they were prepared for. They are inevitably chastened, and if they're lucky, redeemed. The film plays too well within these conventions - the emotional responses of the characters staying well within a rough framework. Real life would be messier.

There's probably more to be said. None of it detracts from my admiration for the film, though I must say I'm getting tired of the whole "faux" thing. It pleases me that recent entries in the form, like The Last Exorcism, have given up the conceit that they are REALLY docs. It's less insulting to our intelligence, that way...

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