Saturday, November 19, 2011


Reason 3: Catfish

“Don't let anyone tell you what it is…”
 “A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, Catfish is a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue.” – Official synopsis

When we were younger and all of us have been at one time or another, we’d play a game called, what is real? Today I call it the Morpheus Game:  “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” 

Watching Catfish summons up a number of Matrix quotes including, “Fasten your seat belt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye.” And, “I imagine that right now, you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?  I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that's not far from the truth.”

I’ve heard about Catfish for a long time – didn’t open the red envelop for over a week - chose not to watch it based on the hokey official synopsis and reviews that cast it as a less than straightforward work. It received only a 70% audience approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. The professional reviewers liked it more – 81%. 

Critics like Peter Rainer and Phil Hall found it “disingenuous at best and underhanded at worst,” and “So blatantly staged that it is impossible to imagine this is a genuine record of life unfolding.”  While Roger Ebert could put aside some “slippery” facts and find “the revelation of a human personality surprisingly moving.” 
(if reading on email - use this link to see the trailer Catfish trailer

Catfish opens with Nev, a young NYC photographer, who is surprised to receive a painting based on one of his dance photographs from Abbey, an unknown 8 year-old artist.  They develop a healthy online friendship over paintings and photographs and over the Internet, Nev is introduced to her entire family including Abbey’s attractive 19-year-old sister, Megan. An Internet love story blossoms. Then it turns weird and a bit creepy.Film by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Should you turn off the cable and watch it? 
  • If social networking interests you, yes. 
  • If escaping your reality interests you, yes. 
  • If you like to question what you see, hear and know to be true, yes. 
  • If you believe everything you hear and see, you NEED to see this. 
    Reason 2: Jamesie: King of Scratch

    79 year-old musician Jamesie Brewster reinforces with my blog premise: Turn off the misogynistic gangster culture pervading too many TV programs.

    “Cut off all this television stuff. Stop corrupting the children them minds. All them sex pictures on TV is turnin the children to do wrong,” he preaches.
    Don’t make the mistake of thinking Jamesie Brewster s a prude. As an entertainer, he takes pleasure in performing songs plied with sexual innuendo. But it is a musical insinuation to enjoy or ignore, not a full-frontal assault on young minds and sensibilities.
    Caribbean music aficionados will appreciate Andrea E. Leland’s Jamesie: King of Scratch. For the uninitiated, scratch music or quelbe music is string band folk music from the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the early days of his career, Jamesie made his own ukelele from a sardines can, a plastic comb, wood bits and strings. Though he no longer has to, he demonstrates how to make musical instruments from scratch. He insists this is how the music he preforms got its name, though others disagree, saying tourists said the homemade instruments had a scratchy sound.  

    Dr. Kenneth Bilby of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College of Chicago writes, “A key point is that this is a music that tells stories, and thus serves as an important repository of local history. …A good example is Queen Mary, about a 19th-century uprising against oppressive labor practices. Another clear expression of local labor unrest is the song LaBega Carousel, which includes the line, "me ain't going work for no twenty cents a day.”

    This is a film that will be studied in universities and conservatories, but may be hard to get a hold of from your usual sources. Netflix doesn't distribute it, but can be ordered from the filmmaker. 


    (Not Really) Reason 1 – The Journey of the Universe: the Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth, and Human Transformation - since this film will premiere on your PBS station on December 3, 2011. 
    At a humanities conference in St Petersburg, I heard environmental writer, Terry Tempest Williams, talk about the imperative of reconnecting with the planet on a deeply human level that transcends man-made geo-political borders and other ill-conceived inventions that no longer work for man or nature. At the end of her talk, she handed out iris bulbs (a long story) and DVDs of this film. She was swooning over it, so I took one home.

    I don’t usually include made-for-public-television films in these posts, preferring independent docs instead. There is nothing wrong with the genre. I have learned much from public television and have made films for public television – most recently one on water. Usually the subject instructs the filmmaker on both the appropriate film treatment and distribution venue.  

    A difficult and epic subject such as this requires an expert guide, in this case, Brian Thomas Swimme;  a preponderance of visual examples; and a didactic approach. This combination pairs best with a curriculum guide rather than popcorn.

    I like this film because it not only teaches the origins of the cosmos, earth and man; it suggests that man’s presence must enhance the earth’s welfare by aligning our consciousness with the universe’s still unfolding evolution. Further it posits that man is both the heart and the mind of the expanding universe. Heady stuff.  Produced and directed by Patsy Northcutt and David Kennar.

     If reading on email click here for trailer

    BLOGS I FOLLOW: There is a really good blog that I follow called The Documentary Blog. It's run by Jay Cheel and Sean Dwyer. I admire these guys, especially Jay for creating his personal list of top 50 documentaries of the decade. Now I totally agree with him on some really excellent and mostly overlooked film choices like Smashing Machine, Manda Bala and The English Surgeon. Really good call, Jay, leaving Inconvenient Truth off the list. Jay likes Herzog; I like Herzog. Jay likes Morris, I like Morris. Some films I disagree with him on and some titles I just refuse to see - too creepy. (I'm not in school any more and no one pays me for this gig.) But he made his list of 50 films! Check out the documentary blog

    I want to thank Docu Diary followers, especially new follower Giesla Pellegrino. Thanks to Suzanne Stenson O'Brien, Bryan Norfork, Dusan Petkovic and Erin for your valuable comments.  I appreciate the feedback. Thanks also to everyone on the International Documentary Association forum at LinkedIn for your great comments and suggestions.

    If you have suggestion, please comment. If you have a criticism, please comment. If you like this blog, please follow. Please note: There is a font poltergeist at work here as well. Any comments regarding fonts should be addressed directly to her!!