I heard someone talk about “Catfish” as a good companion to “The Social Network”. Both movies are about Facebook, after all. But I found more in common with “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. Both movies contend to be real, but are they?
I think most of the rumors can be dispelled about “Catfish”. It is real. At least – the family from the movie.What I’m about to discuss includes spoilers. But if you haven’t seen the documentary I think it’s worth a look as soon as possible. As long as facebook is still prevalent, anyway.
I went into it thinking it would be a “thriller”. That’s the word on the back of the blu ray dvd. From the picture above, I got a sense of some documentary filmmakers chasing someone, and then getting chased back. But really it’s not the thriller I was anticipating. If it ever got to a point where someone’s life could be in danger, I would know this was fake.
At least an hour into the film I still wasn’t sure. As more details emerge, and we zoom out of the portrait to see the big picture, it’s hard to argue with what you see. The “real” family revealed at the end has two retarded children who must be fed through tubes. The mother sheds real tears, seemingly ashamed of what she’s done. They aren’t people you can grab from a casting session. My first thought was, they found the family first, and then sculpted the documentary around them.
But that’s not right. How can they influence the mother to cry on camera? What buttons do they have to push to drive a real human being into acting a part for a faux documentary? I believe Banksy sculpted the characterization of Guetta, but it was in the realm of believability. He’s someone who must have relished playing up the French artiste.
In this movie, the mother could not have possibly been directed so far. She appears on 20/20 after the film’s release. I feel like once you’re on 20/20 you have to show your cards.
But what I still grapple with is whether or not the filmmakers knew as much from the beginning, but only pretended like they were making all these big discoveries for the first half of the film. The giveaway? These guys are too intelligent. I couldn’t wrap my head around the initial purpose for making the documentary, which was to make it about a little girl who can paint. The paintings themselves are nothing to gawk at. No right minded person would hang them up on a wall, just as no right minded person would buy Guetta’s paintings for millions of dollars.
And just watching these filmmakers you can tell they have a sharp eye for structure. They know what to film, and more importantly still – how to film it. Take for instance all of the IMing, texting, and emailing that goes on. Information is revealed carefully. We see Nev (the main subject of the film) “fall in love” with a midwestern girl. All we really see is his reactions to texts. There’s a distinct lack of deeper emotional attachment at work. You can see it when one of his friends asks him at the end of the film how he feels. Nev says he doesnt’t want to talk about it. It communicates almost nothing, so Nev can safely avoid scrutiny. Was he ever really attached to this fake online persona? Was he really going to skip off to the midwest to live with her?
In the final analysis, that was probably the furthest thing from his mind. At the forefront was making a movie. He doesn’t come away from this experience damaged. He’s made millions off of it already (or at least the producers have). The only person emotionally distraught, and arguably, abused, was the mother he ended up finding and exploiting. At least Banksy already knew his subject, and that person was in on the joke.
Regardless, “Catfish” is one of the most talked about movies I’ve seen in awhile and it left a lot on the table to discuss. Much like “Exit Through the Gift Shop”.