33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
In 2007, a photographer in New York City, Nev Schulman, was surprised to receive a parcel in the post containing a painting. It was a painting of a picture of his that had been published in The New York Sun some weeks earlier, and the artist was apparently only eight years old. Intrigued, Schulman began corresponding with Abby, the artist, online under her mother Angela's supervision. His brother Ariel and friend Henry, amateur film-makers, smell a potential good story here and begin filming Nev's interactions with Abby's family by phone and computer. Nev also comes into contact with Abby's family members via Facebook, particularly her 19-year-old sister Megan, whom he starts 'Internet dating'. Since the family live many hundreds of miles away in Michigan, the chances of meeting them soon do not appear to be likely.
Whilst working on a project in Colorado, the trio start to find holes in the story presented to them. Megan, who sings and plays guitar and piano, sends Nev some songs she's recorded, but he finds that they are recordings of songs from YouTube. Googling reveals no mention of Abby's artistic skills in local media. Nev becomes concerned over being scammed, and they decide to detour to Michigan on the way home to learn the truth.
Catfish is an interesting film that was released last year after proving a storm at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It then triggered a significant wave of controversy, though we'll come to that in a moment. It's easy to see why the film has been praised: it's a zeitgeist-capturing movie about people who forge relationships online where the details presented by the parties involved may be exaggerated or indeed fabricated altogether. The final act, exposing what's really going on, subverts audience expectations about the motivations of those involved. As a piece of film-making, Catfish is entertaining, intriguing and builds tension towards the moment of revelation (though it has to be said that this is a quiet, non-flashy film; the trailer suggesting it's a 'thriller' is totally inaccurate).
The film also asks an important question of the audience, one that may or may not have been intended by the film-makers. The film is about people passing themselves and a situation off as something that is rather different to what is presented. So, it is perfectly logical for the viewer to ask, "Okay, but what about you guys? Is this really what happened? Are you manipulating us?" If the film-makers had done this deliberately and perhaps avoided answering the question in promotion, it would be a fascinating and metatextual statement on presentation, perception and motivation in a world where it's all too easy to manipulate these things online for an intended purpose or effect. Unfortunately, the film-makers have spent a fair amount of time saying that everything in the film is 100% the truth and nothing has been changed or manipulated.
This claim is immediately challenged by a scene in which Nev and his compatriots arrive at the address supplied by Megan, intending to surprise her, only to find the house abandoned and uninhabited. Nev opens the postbox (rather dubiously; interfering with the mail in the USA is a federal offence) and finds it stuffed full of the letters and packages he's sent to Megan during the course of their 'relationship'. However, this is clearly a fabricated scene: the post has 'return to sender' already stamped on it, indicating that the post was delivered, not picked up and sent back to Nev in New York. He then appears to have taken the post back to the address and set the scene up to demonstrate to the viewer the deception of Megan providing a false address.
This in turn leads to the viewer questioning the truthfulness of the entire enterprise. Many tens of thousands of words have been dedicated to questioning every aspect of the film by multiple articles, blogs and even news items on US television, so I'll avoid into delving too far into that, except to note that there seems to have been some very clever manipulation of scenes and chronology going on to present the narrative as it unfolds to us.
The film, taken at face-value, is intriguing and raises interesting questions about Internet-based relationships. However, the fact that aspects of it are clearly manipulated and possibly exploitative (one of the participants has since passed away, something that has indeed been verified, but which makes the situation even murkier) leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But at the same time, the fact that after watching the film the viewer can then go online and read up on all the controversy and draw their own conclusions itself adds another level to the experience: layers of deceit, spin, presentation and impersonation. Talking about the film and seeing how different people interpret it is arguably more interesting than the movie itself.
Catfish (score not really applicable) is a bizarre and thought-provoking film about modern media, manipulation and social networking. Whether you believe all of it, none of it or something between, it definitely raises some very interesting questions. The film is available now on DVD (UK, USA) and Blu-Ray (UK, USA).
40 of 55 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
That the authenticity of "Catfish" is in question is both the film's greatest strength and its biggest weakness. Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost have repeatedly claimed that their documentary isn't a hoax, and while I'd like to believe them, I admit that I have my doubts; some of it comes off as a little too dramatic, almost as if the situation were intentionally manufactured for the sake of telling a cautionary tale of internet romance. That being said, the definition and purpose of a true documentary is open for debate. Some believe it should objectively present life as it is, the camera meant to provoke or surprise an unassuming subject, the audience meant to participate as a fly on the wall. Others believe it should express an opinion and support its position with facts and figures. "Catfish" seems to do a little bit of both, confusing matters even further.
Still, there's no denying that it's a gripping piece of work - mysterious, at times suspenseful, at times amusing, and in the end, a curiously touching examination of human behavior and the power of art. If the film is real, if the people on camera are not actors but actual documentary subjects, then it may someday be regarded as one of the best examples of early twenty-first century Cinéma vérité.
The film follows New York photographer Nev Schulman, Ariel's brother, who in 2008 received a painting of one of his photos from eight-year-old Michigan native Abby Pierce. Flattered by her interest in his work, he adds her as a friend on Facebook. This quickly expands to include most of her family, including her mother, Angela, and her older half-sister, Megan, the latter two he begins corresponding with over the phone. He has an especially good rapport with Megan, who's incredibly attractive and has dozens of pictures on her Facebook account. She's an artist herself - a singer and a songwriter. She has also just purchased a farm and is raising horses. Nev is smitten, and in due time, the two start a long-distance relationship. They text each other constantly, progressing naturally from chaste flirtation to bold innuendo. She eventually posts a few of her songs on Facebook for him to listen to, and he tells her they're all very good.
But then Nev discovers that all of the same songs appear on YouTube. One sounds exactly the same as Megan's version. She tells him that she was merely covering the songs, but it's obvious she isn't telling the truth. And what about Abby's paintings? Angela tells him that they're being sold all over the state for various amounts. She also tells him that Abby has just acquired access to a vacant building, which will be converted to a gallery to display her work. A few phone calls make it clear that this is simply not the case. Why are they lying to Nev? How could he have been so gullible? After documenting a dance festival in Colorado, Nev, Ariel, and Henry decide to travel to Michigan and confront Megan and Angela.
And this is where I will stop describing the sequence of events. I will say that it leads to an unexpectedly emotional conclusion. The goal isn't necessarily to shock, although certain audiences may respond to it in that manner; the real goal is to awaken within the audience a sense of empathy, to show us why certain people are the way they are, even if we may not understand. And here again I question the film's authenticity. Isn't it a little too convenient that such a message should be sent at a time when millions upon millions of people - myself included - are frequent Facebook users? I can't quite put my finger on it, but I feel that something subversive is at work here. It's almost as if the filmmakers wanted everything to go the way it actually does go. No, I don't have any proof of this. It's just my gut reaction.
That doesn't change the fact that I was actively engaged with the material. Even the title got me hooked (no pun intended). The tagline warns, "Don't let anyone tell you what it is," and while this may seem pretty stern, it also ignites a fascinating air of anticipation. What exactly does the title refer to? An interview near the end of the film puts it into perspective, and it affected me in two distinct ways: (1) It allowed me to see where certain people were coming from, even though I wholeheartedly disagreed with the methods employed; (2) it stirred within me such feelings of pity that I was tempted to overlook a certain someone's serious lack of judgment. I was tempted, but I ultimately didn't cave in. If that makes me a bad guy, keep in mind that the lies were perpetuated even after Nev and his team arrived in Michigan. If you can't come clean even after the person you lied to has you in a corner, I tend to doubt there will ever be a point at which enough is enough.