10 March 2011

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's Catfish (2010)

This low budget movie is where The Social Network left off, about what social networking sites can result in: confusion and disappointment, but also fascinating invention.

It claims to be a documentary, in the initial stages with the 24-year-old New York photographer Yaniv (Nev for short) Schulman receiving an attachment of a painting of one of his photos, by eight-year-old Abby in Ischpeming, Michigan. He sends her other photos, she sends him some of her paintings, and soon he's confirming several members of the family as his Facebook friends. The virtual friendship broadens, and he's soon receiving phone calls from Abby's mother Angela, but more importantly from her 19-year-old daughter Megan. His brother Ariel (Rel) and friend Henry Joost are interested in the cinematic potential of this relationship, and start filming.

After 1500 communications in eight months the couple have still not met, and although the heat is turned up high, texts and emails use extremely mild sexual language: well, this is 12A-rated in the UK.  But cracks are beginning to emerge: a song Megan claims to have written and sends Nev is discovered to be identical on YouTube to Suzanna Choffel's version of 'Tennissee Stud', and Nev as yet has not spoken to Abby, the instigator of the relationship. Nev is ready to give up on a fraudster, but Henry is fascinated by the story, and tells Nev he surely must see how this movie pans out.

While on an assignment in Vail, near Denver, Colorado, the three men decide to pay a visit on Megan on the return journey.

For a few people, and a very few I'm sure, the internet can be a breeding ground for psychosis, but for others it's merely a chance to be other people, to indulge in fantasies. When some victims get ensnared in these fantasies and assume they're real, though, they can get a little hurt: the emotions are real.
Is there really any difference in the end between people claiming to be who they're not on social networking sites, and frauds that have always existed in the non-virtual world - malicious, or, as in this case - benign and very sad? And as Angela's partner Vince says of the days that they used to ship codfish in vats from Alaska to China, catfish were necessary to keep them agile; he continues:

'And there are those people who are catfish in life: they keep you on your toes, they keep you guessin’, they keep you thinkin’, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish, because we would be dull and boring if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fins.'

Catfish keeps you guessing, keeps you on your toes, and has to be the real internet movie story success of 2010, no matter how good The Social Network undeniably is.

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