30 goals in 117 starts: not bad for a midfielder

This intriguing documentary concerns a young New York photographer who looks like Clint Dempsey and the online relationship he develops with a mysterious family on the other side of America. One sibling, a talented 8-year old girl, triggers the correspondence by sending him a painted version of one of his photographs; another, her 20-something dancer half-sister, grabs his interest in a less platonic sense.

The co-directors are the protagonist’s brother and friend and are also present in the film as characters. On the production team is Andrew Jarecki, whose Capturing the Friedmans is possibly the best documentary I have seen and resembles this in the way that we follow the filmmakers’ own following of the story to deeper, darker and more disturbing places as the narrative develops.

Neat touches which fit with the subject matter are present and correct from the outset – the titles ‘loading’ and locations demonstrated via google maps. Whilst this may sound gimmicky, what’s fascinating – and genuinely new (to me at least) – is the way in which the film constructs its narrative in the way that narratives truly are constructed on the internet, using friend additions and facebook chats to develop the plot whilst flicking through photos to give us an idea of character. In this sense Catfish really is ‘about Facebook’ in a way that David Fincher’s The Social Network never was – or at least wasn’t interested in being.

It also works beautifully as a drama in its own right. How ‘real’ it is (which has been debated) seems to me irrelevent. As the brothers dig away at their story manfully, what we end up with is both a gripping mystery caper and a serious exposé of internet’s enormous potential to facilitate fantasy, in a way that implicates others. A clever and unsettling film that feels truly of its time.

Further thoughts on Catfish here

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3 Responses to Catfish

  1. zed says:

    This film falls into that growing category of ‘is this fiction or is this documentary?’ and in doing so takes us into the heart of the virtual world of social networking on the internet. This is an exciting but potentially dangerous world where the computer becomes the portal for……well, almost anything you want, at least in fantasy. We all hope and wish and dream and imagine…..doing so is part of creativity and adventure and fuels our aspirations…..and it is fun to play in this way. But unless we can retain or readily return to some semblance of reality, a sense of what is actual and real, we are at risk of coming to occupy a world which invites us to believe (even if it is only in part) that we are omnipotent and can construct the world in whatever way we want it – a dangerous and ultimately unsustainable state of mind.

    My experience of the film was rather like going onto the internet where you get increasingly involved and ‘lost’ in whatever you are accessing – for me the film started slowly and became increasingly intriguing and entrancing. It is a good film, depicting the experiences of two people who get entranced in their internet ‘relationship’ and then have to face the reality of the illusions they were engaged in.

    Others will no doubt say more about the film as a piece of artwork. I want to say something about what might be being implied by the film’s title, ‘Catfish’. As we hear in the film, the catfish is used in tanks transporting other fish to keep them alert and functioning and alive, so that they reach their destination healthy and strong. In this way the catfish has a function which promotes and supports ‘health’. The idea that there was any similar ‘catfish – function’ in any of the activity shown in the film is a worrying suggestion.

    The film is about a woman under enormous pressure from her very difficult life circumstances who spends many hours at her keyboard creating a fantasy world into which walks the film’s other main character – the film maker. They start an online encounter which is centred on the fantasised people created by the woman. The reality of the woman’s situation is exposed when the film maker goes to meets her…and, as I said earlier, it is a difficult and sad reality.

    Of course a capacity for the use of imagination, fantasy and playfulness is part of any healthy personality and of a good relationship, but an excessive degree of engaging in such fantasised relationships actually has the potential to deprive the person from employing this capacity to influence and create actual relationships. The danger of excessive social networking on the internet is that a virtual world is created within which participants engage with virtual others rather than with real others….and I don’t need to add how this virtual world can be exploited by those who seek out others who can be seduced and entranced by the ‘promise’ created by the fantasy. This was not what was portrayed in the film, but in the film there was no evidence at all that the social networking portrayed had actually fulfilled a ‘catfish-function’ for anybody.

    In the film, the participants ended up disappointed that what they had engaged in was exactly what it was – a fantasy.

    • JamieR says:

      I wasn’t so convinced that the film had any message as such promoting online activity. The ‘catfish’ line is spoken by Vince – a minor character, and one who is bound to be biased in his wife’s favour. His interpretation may be that her actions are positive – but, as you say, the film in general is not afraid to show the harsh reality of the sadness which lies behind her excessive fantasising.

      Indeed, perhaps the metaphor (and therefore Catfish as a title) is better than you’re giving it credit for – and more in line with what you’re arguing about social networking. After all, aren’t the other fish only to be cooked and eaten at the end of their journey? So the provocation from the catfish, like online activity, might offer the illusion of ‘health’ through stimulation – but ultimately it is to no good end.

  2. Emma says:

    I watched this last night and enjoyed it, found the climax to the film (perhaps debatable but I felt the moment where they go to knock on Angela’s door with the flowers) very unsettling and almost a heart-in-mouth moment. Compared to this moment the last 20 minutes seemed to be almost a completely different film to the first 60-70. I suppose this is both praise and criticism as I enjoyed both elements to the film and liked the fact that it did do both, but found the ending of the film a little disjointed/deflating.

    Hope you are well Jamie, we must go t’pub soon!

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