Thanks to incredibly clever electronic gadgets and the miracle of the Internet, we live in an age when anyone, anywhere, can potentially produce words, audio, and images, and share them with the world at large. Further, we can use inexpensive tools to assemble and edit these suddenly unlimited raw materials into very sophisticated presentations.
These advances introduce both an astounding boon and a confounding quandary.
Catfish, a documentary film by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, is a breathtaking tour-de-force demonstration of what is now possible. Unfortunately, as is the case with much of our new media, it is very light on real substance.
Ariel’s brother Nev Schulman is a young photographer in New York City who, thanks to Facebook, begins to receive paintings of his photographs as interpreted by an 8-year-old girl named Abby in Ishpeming, Michigan. Abby has a mother, and she also has an attractive sister named Megan Faccio, a veterinary technician and songwriter with whom Nev quickly strikes up a long-distance romance.
From the outset, the filmmakers begin documenting this story. They have social media postings, cell phone video, handheld HD video, telephone audio, MP3 music, YouTube videos, GPS tracking maps and much more. All of it is tightly edited into a very slick 87 minutes.
Soon added to the budding love story is a mystery. Certain details about this Facebook family in rural Michigan do not completely add up. Eventually, the three young men decide to pay a visit in person, unannounced. This adds some nice road trip and detective elements to the tale.
Unfortunately, the truth that is ultimately revealed cannot come as much of a surprise to anyone who has ever used social media. This is a movie which uses marvelous technique to tell a story which amounts to very little.
In fact, the clean, cutting-edge production of Catfish makes the documentary itself feel somewhat suspect. Were all of these things captured as they happened? If not, how much is recreated? According to Wikipedia, a good many people have questioned the film’s authenticity.
Ultimately though, Catfish is worth watching in two respects. One is its spectacular use of technology, which can now bring even the most mundane events to life in expertly edited high-definition. The other is the ease with which these tools can make it almost impossible for us to know anymore what is true.
I rate it three stars out of four.