Sunday, October 17, 2010

Catfish - the truth inside the lie: I don't believe the film is non-fiction

"Well, that's how it really happened," new writers often respond when told something in their writing did not ring true or didn't seem realistic.

A friend who taught creative writing at a local community center had a middle-aged student who introduced herself, right off the bat, as someone who "only writes about things that happened." Didn't describe herself as a non-fiction writer or a historian. Just that whatever appeared in her stories really happened. The subtext was easy to understand: "Criticize my work and you criticize the very fabric of reality." Sure enough, every time this writers work was up for discussion and any mentioned something not seeming realistic or plausible, the writer said, "But that's how it really happened."

At times, there seems to be so much on the line when a new writer shows someone else their work that they want every possible defense ready at hand in case there's criticism.

In a first year writing class, after hearing "But that's how it really happened" one too many times from a classmate who's fiction consistently strained the bounds of logic and credulity, I finally said, "Then what kind of writer are you that you can't even make reality seem real?"

The film Catfish hinges on the audience believing what they're seeing is real -- that the filmmakers captured true events, as they happened (except in the case of some "bridging" material shot to make a coherent narrative) between real people.

From a review on
. . . having seen Catfish, I tend to believe the filmmaker's protestations (voiced at a contentious panel after the film's premiere at Sundance) that this movie is on the level.
From a review on
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have said that certain expository scenes and screen captures in "Catfish" were re-created after the fact, because the decision to make a film about Ariel's brother Nev Schulman's troubled Facebook love affair came relatively late in the story. That awkwardness may explain, in part, the alarm bells some viewers keep hearing in the movie, despite the filmmakers' insistence that the story itself is entirely true. At this point, Joost and the Schulmans have been accused of punking the audience in any number of ways: Maybe the whole thing is fictional, maybe they have exaggerated and distorted real events, maybe they took a germ of truth and used it to set a cruel, reality-TV-style trap for their star antagonist. (emphasis is mine) quotes an early audience member who raised the same question I do:
"This may be a minority opinion," he said. "I think you guys did a great job, but I don't think it's a documentary."
. . .

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.

"I think it's really a faux documentary," the man replied.

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.
No, not the best actor in the world or the best writers in Hollywood. Just some guys who made a cool film on a catchy gimmick.

After seeing the film this evening, I do not believe Catfish is real.

In fact, I believe I have seen in the past 12 months a documentary that may have served as inspiration to the filmmakers. That documentary is called Tallhotblonde:
This is the true story of a love triangle that takes place entirely online. Lies lead to murder in real life, as a teenage vixen (screen name 'talhotblond') lures men into her web. Revealing a shocking true crime story that shows the Internet's power to unleash our most dangerous fantasies.
It doesn't matter, either way. I'm just noting that I saw a distinct similarity between the two films. Tallhotblonde was unquestionably a non-fiction documentary and my writer's instincts tell me that Catfish was contrived.

I had the same sense when watching The Brandon Corey Story, long before the appearance of David Icke (all I'll say so as not to reveals spoilers). I applaud any filmmaker who gets out there to tell a story. Even better when the genre is the faux documentary. The more real, the better. But enjoyment of a film cannot be contingent on belief in its actual, verifiable facts. A film's either good or not. It's either entertaining or it's not. Don't tell me I have to believe in it.

Real or not, Catfish is pretty compelling. The reviews I've read have described how the filmmakers insist the film is real. I watched it just as a film and I was entertained. If the filmmakers are going to press their audience to also believe the events are all real, I think they're asking too much.

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