Catfish (USA, 2010, Henry Joose, Ariel Schulman)
So sed Ben:
Marshall McLuhan ultra-famously said that the medium is the message. But we have reached the point that the medium is message-less. More precisely, the message is without truth-value. None, at least, in which we can have complete confidence. Even if you trust a technology, can you trust the technologist running it?
Like the classic epistemological paradox that attends the statement: "I am lying," the manipulation of true information and fabrication of false information makes it seriously difficult to differentate fact from fiction. Of course, so much of postmodern discourse rationalizes this differentiation as an impossibility. But common sense refuses to submit to such ideology that makes a fetish of digital processing, virtual life and a camera in every phone/a phone in every hand/every waking minute/every day.
So it is with common sense that I find Catfish irritating. If I didn't like the film as much as I do, if it did not both engage and affect me as it did, then I would not be so irritated. The film is socially interesting and emotionally affecting to the extent that it documents a true story. And it is just as much aesthetically banal and ethically reprehensible to the extent that it is an artificial construction. I like the film enough to care about the relative weights of this, but it does piss me off that I have to place the problem on the scale in the first place.
At what point in real life did the film-makers decide to make the film? The point in reel-life that shows this is bogus. The start of the film showing the start of the film was not the actual start of the film. I refuse to believe that the receipt of a single painting based on a photograph published by one of the film-makers' younger brother was the original catylist for the making of the film. Only when the younger brother was well absorbed into his electronnic milieu - when there was a large cast of remarkable characters with speaking parts on various platforms; and most especially, a romantic connection - only then did this present itself as "material" deserving of documentation. And this is the generous reading. A throughly hostile interpretation is that all of the "material" in the film is literally immaterial; i.e., phoney.
I do not think this throughly hostile interpretation can be sustained. I am inclined to think that the film-makers are not responsible for the fantasy life about which the film fundamentally revolves. It is the imagination of the woman whom they finally insist upon meeting in flesh and blood that has populated a make-believe universe into which they have been drawn. But were they drawn as unwittingly as they present themselves to have been? This is the bottom-line question. To what degree are these guys merely responding with basic curiousity and journalistic intent, and to what degree are they exploiting a genuinly creative but terribly isolated human being by rekindling the fires of her fantasy for the purpose of spinning out a chique entertainment?
It is easy enough to side-step this bottom-line issue. All that is needed is to disregard the film-makers entirely and focus all attention on the woman. A closed-minded conservative will blame her for her own mischief. If she has been humiliated in front of the neighbours by the police department knocking on her door, it's her own fault for making all those crank calls. An empty-headed liberal will celebrate her for her own brilliance. If she is enjoying the fifteen minutes of fame Warhol promised her, she certainly deserves it for making such creative use of the means of communication today. Common sense, meanwhile, refuses to side-step the issue.
But hey, you wanna reality check? Start with the more severely retarded of the two severely retarded twin brothers; slapping himself into an early grave, on camera. If that guy was from central casting, then the film-makers of Catfish should be subjected to a serious beating in a dark alley.
On the way to asking whether Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary or a faux-cumentary, Liam Lacey states: "Reality TV has eroded documentary credibility to the point where the entrie category seems quaint," (Globe and Mail, Wednesday January 26, 2011, p. A1).
What is he saying? Is he saying, as I would be inclined to say, that the obviously manufactured form of reality television - if not staged from the outset, edited into submission after the fact - casts deep suspicion on the facticity of anything supposedly captured on camera but plainly presented on the screen?
Or is he instead saying, as I fear he very well may be, that the veritably palatable supposed veracity and inescapable presence of so-called reality programs on television renders any sort of documentary necessarily redundant in the culture; that they are obsolete because we have Survivor and Jersey Shore instead?
The trailer. Or is it?