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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

14 May

Mark Zuckerberg born, 1984

On this day in 1984, Mark Zuckerberg was born, in White Plains, New York. The son of a dentist and a psychiatrist, he came into the world on the day that Lionel Richie’s “Hello” was the number one in the USA – appropriate, considering that he’d make his fortune introducing people to each other. Zuckerberg was a computer nerd at school, having learnt Atari BASIC from his father, and his precociousness encouraged his parents to get him a tutor. Interestingly, Zuckerberg was also into sport (he was fencing captain) and was interested in the arts too. He went to Harvard, where he studied psychology and computer science. There he wrote a program called CourseMatch which helped people form study groups based on what other people were choosing – he matched people up. His next program, FaceMash, did something similar but was more recreational, matching up people based on their feeling about another person’s looks rather than their academic interests – who’s hot, who’s not. It was a bit of fun that proved so popular that it brought access to Harvard’s intranet to a standstill on the weekend it launched. The Harvard authorities closed it on Monday morning, claiming, among other things, that FaceMash had used people’s private information (their photos) without their permission. The following year, on 4 February 2004, Zuckerberg launched a revamped FaceMash, called had 1,200 users within 24 hours. It registered its millionth user in December the same year. In September 2006, Yahoo considered buying Facebook for $1 billion. 13 months later, in October 2007, Facebook was valued at $15 billion. In October 2012, Facebook reached 1 billion active users.

Catfish (2010, dir: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman)

A film ostensibly about Facebook relationships, what they are, what they aren’t, which works exactly like an online encounter with someone you’ve never met in person. To back-pedal: we meet 24-year-old New York photographer, Nev, the brother of co-director Ariel Schulman. Nev has struck up a relationship with an eight year old girl online, a precocious artist who has sent him a painting of one of his photos of a dancer, which is what he specialises in. Through the prodigy he becomes acquainted with her mother, and then her sister, who seems to be a talented budding songwriter. Except it turns out that no one at the other end of this particular strand of the web is who they say they are. The guys have been played.

Except… and here is where Catfish gets smart… it’s possible that the guys are playing us. They seem inordinately crestfallen at the revelation that the painter isn’t a painter, that her sister’s songs all seem to have been lifted from YouTube. But who, aged under 30, isn’t fully aware of the fact that the person they are communicating with online might not be a smart young girl (and her hot sister), might instead be a smart old guy (and his imaginary friend)? Who? No one.

So what are we watching? A documentary or a drama? Are Nev and Ariel and Henry really great natural acting talents, or three bright guys blundering their way towards documentary nirvana? I’ll not spoil the film. But will just drop a further plot development into the mix, because it’s here that an already very interesting film becomes really fascinating – the guys decide to head off upstate to confront the family upon whom they seem to have become overly fixated. Things do get weird. Catfish works because, whether it’s “true” or not, it is about a truth – that the way we relate to another has changed.

But never mind the “message”, it also works because it has been structured as a series of feints – we never quite get our hands on the ball. It’s a thriller, shot in ADHD style, in the “I post on your wall, you update your status” way that the Facebook generation embrace. At the end, as the credits roll, the name Andrew Jarecki comes up as a producer. Jarecki was the director of Capturing the Friedmans – the emotionally shattering documentary about the nice family who turned out to be nothing of the sort. And you say “ahaa”.

Why Watch?

  • A great genre-baiting documentary. Or drama
  • All you need to make a movie is a camera. And talent
  • Like it or not, you’ll remember it
  • To find out why it’s called Catfish

Catfish – at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2014

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