Niall Anderson watches two very different cinematic confidence tricks
As the old joke has it: on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog. But what kind of dog are you? Are you housetrained? Do you like children? Do you have any infectious diseases? Are you even, actually, a dog?
Hoaxes and confidence tricks have always been fertile ground for drama, but certain crops have withered in recent years. The clever confidence caper (epitomised by The Sting) doesn’t seem to flourish as it used to. If it hasn’t quite died out, it’s been genetically modified into something almost unrecognisable. The films of Christopher Nolan, for instance, are all confidence capers at root, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the overbearing foliage.
Besides, there’s a new harvest. Films about, for want of a better term, being a dog. Where once the cinematic conman played a short game, hoping to trick himself into money or out of danger, he now does what he does indefinitely and for no immediately intelligible reason. His first hope is that you’ll accept him as a dog. His highest hope is that you’ll accept him as a dog for a really long time. The usual pleasures of the cinematic con trick – whether and how he’ll get away with it – are replaced by the mopier issue of why he wants to be a dog in the first place.
Catfish (2010) remains the exemplar of this new tricky cinema. A transparent and risibly faked “documentary” about how social media allows people to disguise their real identities, Catfish takes callow New York brothers the Schulmans into the American heartland to discover that the hot twentysomething pixie one of them fancies is actually a dowdy middle-aged woman with no friends and a lot of Facebook accounts. There is shock, followed by hugging and learning. The Schulman brothers learned so much, in fact, that they felt compelled to franchise their wisdom into Catfish: The TV Show – an MTV production in which Nev Schulman spies on internet daters and exposes them if they’re not telling the truth.
This seems to me to be a fairly crippled notion of the truth. It is also a fairly obvious bit of reactionary posturing about the rise of online communication. But the note of paranoia – the idea that you can’t trust anybody till you see them in the flesh – feels authentic in both its fear and naivety. Everything will be all right once all the masks are dropped. Two films coincidentally released this week take on this idea in very different ways. Continue reading Ready to take your order