Film Reviews

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS

By • Jun 11th, 2003 •

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Magnolia Pictures / 107 minutes

Andrew Jarecki doesn’t know whether or not Arnold and Jesse Friedman were guilty of child molestation. After watching Capturing the Friedmans, an engrossing documentary that, like the superb Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, demonstrates how unjust the justice system can be, I can honestly say I don’t know either. The problem is, both men were convicted without a shred of physical evidence against them, and both, for reasons purposefully left ambiguous in the film, pled guilty to their charges.

The documentary, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2003, is about a middle-class family in Great Neck, Long Island, that was ripped apart on Thanksgiving 1987 when police raided their home in search of child pornography belonging to the father, Arnold. Supposedly, police found large stashes in the basement den where Arnold taught computer classes to neighborhood children.

Allegations from dozens of children, claiming to have been both sexually and violently abused by both Arnold and Jesse, then 18, quickly followed.

Around this time, David, the eldest son, began recording everything his family did, supposedly, he recollects as an adult, so he wouldn’t have to remember the events himself. To be honest, the documentary is less concerned with the Friedmans’ guilt than it is with their dysfunctional dynamic. After all, being largely comprised of David’s videos, the film isn’t so much a documentary as it is a twisted home movie. One almost has to question the sanity of a family that is in such dire need of attention that they record themselves fighting without the slightest hint of self-consciousness.

And so the documentary unfolds, placing layers upon layers of contradictory evidence onto the audiences’ shoulders. As we listen to the investigators, and the former students (one says he was abused, the other says he wasn’t), and the members of Great Neck, and the Friedmans themselves, we begin to realize that every shred of evidence contains falsehood. The only truth is that the truth has been twisted.

Jarecki’s style is manipulative. He knowingly feeds his viewers specific tidbits of knowledge to alter their perception of the events, so it will be far more devastating when he feeds them the next, which will get them to yet again alter their perception. …

… Arnold denies having child pornography in his home and is found to have stacks of it. Arnold denies the charges against him but admits to having molested the son of a family friend years ago. Arnold claims to have raped his younger brother when they were children, even though his brother has never been able to remember such an event. Now, Arnold’s brother is a homosexual. A former student claims to remember being raped by Arnold and Jesse but did so only after being put through hypnosis. Dozens of counts of sexual assault are reported, yet former students admit to being coerced by police into saying they were molested.

On and on it goes, as convoluted as a nightmare. At the very time when Arnold is charged with possession of child porn, national headlines are made, and the trials are under way, David’s camera is there. As I watched, I wondered why the family granted Jarecki permission to use David’s footage. Obviously, the family has been ravaged enough by these scandalous events. Jarecki’s refusal to take a side ultimately amounts to little more than throwing additional sand in the public eye. No matter how much information David’s camera feeds us, we are never closer to knowing the truth than we were when we knew nothing except the title of the film.


Featuring:
Arnold Friedman
David Friedman
Elaine Friedman
Jesse Friedman

Credits:
Director: Andrew Jarecki.

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