August 19, 2013

An Overabundance of Smug: CATFISH

One of the advantages of our media-saturated culture is that one year's "can't-miss-masterpiece" is this year's "casual-choice-from-the-public-library." I have always wanted to see Catfish, the documentary (or is it?) about social networking, for awhile now, so after checking it out of the library....

...well, having seen it, even though I paid nothing,  I still want my money back.

Catfish's premise is simple - a young man who is the subject of a documentary (I'm assuming it started about his photography) becomes friendly with a 7 year old girl via Facebook, which leads to an online "romance" with her sister....and then becomes a tangled narrative focusing on trust, hiding behind identities, and....well, this movie has problems.

It's main one - an overabundance of smug. Although the three "leads" (the main character and two directors) attempt to make this into some kind of reality-like narrative, everything about this movie appears staged and artificial, almost scripted. (And yes, I am very well aware of Charlie Brooker's excellent piece on reality tv editing via Screenwipe.) There's also some wild inconsistencies with the cast and their "performances" - I find it hard to believe that a character who wants to be "left alone" and unfilmed will, later on, demonstrate manic glee at stealing another's mail.

Towards the end - a moment which should have demonstrated pathos and understanding, if not forgiveness, when we see how sometimes living desperate lives can lead to enmeshment in fantasy, we do not get authentic emotion - what we get is a sense of condescension and patronization. It's the kind of arrogance that comes with living in cities (and I admit, I am just as culpable) - that somehow some lives are "lesser". In fact, with a series of brief information screens at the end of the film, Catfish does what very few films (even documentaries) do - kick a person while they're down, almost as if to claim some moral superiority.

It would be easy to describe this film as similar to a Facebook profile - shallow, superficial, and poorly considered. Ironically, a much better film about similar issues in social networking (named The Social Network) would be made later on, but Catfish manages to do something that many do in social media: promote themselves and their ego without any context or nuance.

In short, Catfish seems to be a film made almost exclusively for the social media douchebag....and that is a shame, because it could have been so much more....

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