Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Catfish: It's all movies these days, I guess

Hey, whatever gets me writing, I guess. But first, have some links: This Kickstarter for Dash Shaw's animated movie The Ruined Cast looks like it's worth contributing to, I think.

I encourage checking out the Dogs of Mars series on Comixology; it's illustrated by Paul Maybury, and it looks really nice. First issue is free, second is 99 cents. Not bad!

Here's an artist who I wasn't familiar with, but looks pretty amazing: Jeremy Sorese. That link leads to his story "In the Parlor Room", which is currently being serialized, but he's got lots of other nice comics and illustration work on his site; I think he might be one of my new favorites.

As for other artists that I like who have webcomics, here's Koren Shadmi's The Abaddon. Cool.

This webcomic is a kinda cute, satirical take on the Pied Piper story, but the really neat thing about it is the way it uses horizontal scrolling, moving different layers of the images at different speeds to make an illusion of 3-D. Beautiful.

And for one of the very best comics I've read lately, here's Sarah Glidden's devastating "The Waiting Room", a journalistic story about Iraqi refugees in Syria. Wow.

2010, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Note: There are probably some mild spoilers here, in discussing the very premise of the movie, but hopefully nothing too experience-ruining until stated otherwise.

Being as generally out of the loop as I am, I have no idea what the general consensus, revelations, etc. are on this movie, so my main question upon watching it is, is it real? That is, is it the genuine nonfiction documentary it presents itself as, or is it a narrative film masquerading as one? Either way, it's a pretty fascinating piece of work, generating conflicting opinions and examining the nature of "truth" in our modern, online society, in which anyone can connect with anyone else, and choose which face to present to them, ranging across a huge spectrum from pure and unfiltered to blatantly false. As a documentary taking a close look at a specific case of trickery, it's pretty interesting, but if it's fiction, it's fucking brilliant, adding enough layers of obfuscation and manipulation to leave one's head spinning.

The hook is pretty simple, following Yanev, a twentysomething photographer living in New York, as his filmmaker brother and their friend decide to document his online relationship with a young girl named Abby who has begun making painted replicas of his photos, Rob Granito style. Soon, he also begins communicating with Abby's mother, Angela, and especially her older sister, Megan, a sexy dancer/musician/free spirit, with whom he ends up falling into a romantic relationship. Maybe it's the expectation that nothing is as it seems that gives us the feeling that this will all probably turn out to be too good to be true, but the filmmakers do a remarkable job of selling the believability of the electronic relationships, showing all manner of online communications, such as Facebook messages, photos, excerpts from emails, and text messages, all familiar sights to modern technology users, from the fonts and pixelated images to the telltale green-and-white Iphone text boxes. Maybe that's why the phone calls we see seem to be the most awkward exchanges, yet are as nonetheless believable as everything else.

But, as mentioned, it is all too good to be true, and the reveal of the truth (or "truth") is where things get really interesting, but is also where we venture into hard SPOILER territory, so read on at your own risk. When the authenticity of some songs that Megan seemed to write and record for Yanev incredibly quickly comes into question, he understandably freaks out, and they decide to pay a surprise visit to the family at their home in Michigan. At this point, we expect a scam of some sort and just want to find out the answers, but the revelation is surprisingly complex, in terms of both the actual truth (which is all tangled up with the various lies, and might be fiction itself anyway) and whatever judgment we might render on the perpetrator. All the online communication turns out to be coming from Abby's mother Angela, a homely housewife with a working-class husband and two mentally handicapped stepsons. While we may have thought of her as a liar and manipulator, we soon see that all her ruses apparently started as an attempt to escape from the difficulty of her daily life, and spiraled out of her control until she had created a vast web of fake personalities, fictional relationships, and made-up events. Is she somebody to be pitied? Even that is hard to say, since she continually makes up new lies, even while confessing to her old ones.

This point is where the movie kind of stalls, as Yanev interrogates Angela to try to find out what is and isn't real, how much of the woman he fell in love with is made up and how much is part of Angela, and just what the deal is with this obviously disturbed person. As interesting as the whole situation is, Angela ends up being kind of boring in person, although that's probably part of the point. And of course, the question of the movie's authenticity keeps viewers on their toes; is this a purposeful deflation of expectations, an attempt to make the entire story seem more "real" by relentlessly focusing on this person along with Yanev to find out what makes her tick?

That way probably lies madness, since questioning one aspect of the film causes one to wonder about everything. Yanev seems kind of false, at least at first, with a goofy grin usually plastered on his face. But as the movie proceeds, it just seems like camera-shy awkwardness. A lot of the events seem too contrived, such as a postcard that Yanev sends to Megan which we see later, but, as with any documentary, that could just be an example of selective editing from what was surely a great deal of footage that didn't make it into the final film. It's a constant tightrope walk between possible truth and possible fiction; as with the very subject of the film, the more time we spend with these people, the more we think we know them and want them to be real. Or is it the other way around, and we think it's all a ruse and search out every possible contrivance or discrepancy, congratulating ourselves on our debunking skills? Is the scene in which Yanev confronts Angela in an almost casual way rather than staging dramatic argument an example of veracity, or is it a deft defiance of expectations? Is the weird bit in which Yanev asks Angela to speak to him "as Megan" contrived, or is it a moment of human awkwardness? If the movie is fiction, how did they get the mentally impaired boys to play their part? If it's fact, Angela's husband's title-providing monologue seems awfully convenient, doesn't it?

END SPOILERS, so the conclusion can be read.

Maybe it's better not to know the "real" answer of the movie's authenticity. The state of uncertainty turns it into a Schrodinger's Cat-style paradox of truth, somehow both true and false and all mixed up together into a delightful stew of confusion. Narrowing those possibilities down to one single answer limits the possibilities, much as meeting an online acquaintance in real life can inevitably be disappointing. That's the price of human connection, or whatever facsimile thereof we currently consider acceptable.