The new movie “Catfish” is being marketed as a “reality thriller” and not a documentary. Maybe that is part of the reason that so many people can’t quite swallow all of the movie’s claims as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM. Actually, I’m trying to avoid major spoilers in the article itself but I can’t control the comment section…
OK, HERE WE GO:
Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, “Catfish” stars Schulman’s brother Nev, a 24-year-old New York photographer. He is befriended on Facebook by an 8-year old painter named Abby, her mother Angela, and Abby’s older sister Megan. Nev and Megan start a long-distance Internet relationship and then things go haywire.
The main question is this: At what point did the filmmakers realize they had a movie on their hands and how exactly did that affect the way they continued to pursue the story?
With the Internet being what it is and these guys being as tech- and gadget-aware as they are, it’s a wonder nobody did a simple Google search or two to determine who they were really talking to. Were they simply milking the story for the sake of the movie?
Are Nev’s reactions to the revelations in the film (as they happen on camera) genuine?
Is it a cautionary tale about the perils of accepting social media at face value or is it a fake documentary with a bunch of really good actors?
I think it’s a documentary–and if anything, it points out just how much fiction we all actually like in our non-fiction. Fakery is already there, folks, and it has been since the invention of the documentary. Even the ‘March of Time’ newsreels were full of faked footage.
In The Wrap, Joost said:
“The only thing we re-created were the close-ups on the computer screen. None of the scenes were staged. People are responding to how the story is so streamlined like a narrative film. We actually considered having talking heads. Ultimately, we decided we had the footage to back up this straight narrative.”
At the Sundance screening in January, there was this exchange during Q&A (via Movieline):
So what happened when that man in the Q&A said that he didn’t think the film was a documentary? “What is it then?” Schulman sneered.
Instead of asking him to explain, Schulman leapt to a conclusion. “Oh, so you’re saying that my brother is the best actor in the world? Let’s hear it for my brother! The next Marlon Brando, ladies and gentlemen!” he said, applauding.
The cheers Schulman led drowned out his questioner. Then, the filmmaker continued, his voice raising an octave.
“Thank you very much! Oh, and we’re the best writers in Hollywood? Thank you everyone!”
With that, Schulman cut off both the Q&A and his questioner.
When asked why people are suspicious by LAist, co-director Joost said:
“I think that there has been a trend for a while of the mockumentary and also the fake documentary, which is kind of a different thing. The Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project type thing and then even more recently, those commercials that are trying to look like YouTube viral videos where something totally crazy happens and a visual effects company manipulates it. So I think people are trained now to be suspicious about what they see and wonder what the motives are behind it. So this question of whether the film is real or not never occurred to us while we were editing, because why would you ever suspect that people would be suspicious of something that actually happened to you? But when we started showing it at Sundance, that’s when we started getting questions from the audience. When we were making the film, there were many times when we thought, “Wow, this is too good to be true” in a lot of ways or, “I can’t believe that just happened the way that it did,” or that we captured that in the way that we did, but it did. It really happened. That’s the truth.”
For further exploration, New York magazine has a feature on what was cut from “Catfish.”
A feature in the same magazine on the brothers had this to say:
“Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock has called the film “the best fake documentary I’ve ever seen.” One commenter on the website Deadline Hollywood wrote that “either the hipsters were incredibly dumb or else they knew exactly what they were doing.”
Nev admits that both those statements are half-true. “I was really bored. My life was in limbo,” he says of the moment Abby appeared. He’d dropped out of Sarah Lawrence and was paying his bills by making videos for bar mitzvahs. Megan provided the fantasy of a simple life. “I was unbelievably self-convincing,” he admits. “There were so many red flags, but I was looking for an excuse to say, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ That’s the theme of all the trouble I get into.”
Scott from VeryAware has done some Internet detective work of his own and is drawing some far-reaching conclusions, using screenshots from the film against the filmmakers.
What do you think?
10/8 UPDATE: This interview with Nev Schulman from The Wrap also has more information about what happened that is not included in the movie and why it took him so long to Google Megan and Abby. Tonight, Angela will be interviewed on ABC’s “20/20.”