Capturing The Friedmans (15)

Film image
Andrew Jarecki

The ViewLondon Review

Review byMatthew Turner05/04/2004

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 107 mins

Fascinating, moving documentary that leaves you with plenty to think about – if there was any justice, this would have shared The Fog Of War’s Best Documentary Oscar.

Capturing the Friedmans is the Oscar-nominated documentary by Andrew Jarecki, a fascinating, moving and disturbing documentary about the collapse of a middle-class family in Great Neck, Long Island after the father and one of the sons were accused of molesting boys in their basement in 1987. It arrives here after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year, as well as receiving critical acclaim from the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Child Pornography Discovered

The case itself is as follows: during Thanksgiving, 1987, police raided the Friedmans’ home and found child pornography in the basement. Arnold Friedman was a popular high school science teacher who gave computer classes in his basement, where the porn was found. Subsequently, both he and his youngest son, Jesse, were accused of molesting several of the students in Arnold’s classes.

What makes the film unusual is that both Arnold and his son David were home video enthusiasts, with David even recording family discussions and arguments during the arrest and run-up to the trial – these sequences give the film an extremely uncomfortable, claustrophobic edge, because you feel as if you shouldn’t really be listening, yet you can’t tear yourself away.

At any rate, Jarecki has edited this footage down from over 50 hours and added to it footage from the court room, TV news reports and extracts from David’s video diary, plus recent interviews to the camera by family members, alleged victims, the victims' parents, lawyers, the police and even the trial judge.

Impossible To Know The Truth

The clever thing about the film is that, just as you think you know whose viewpoints you 'trust', Jarecki cleverly -and very subtly- pulls the rug out from under you - this is especially true of the lawyer and of one of the key witnesses. In Jarecki’s words, the film is “a combination of different versions of different stories".

Witnesses contradict each other or are shown to be unreliable so that by the end of the film the only thing you really know is that you have no idea of what the “truth” is. Even David and Jesse exhibit some decidedly weird behaviour on film (such as when David taunts the families of the victims and chases them with the camera) and the film invites you to speculate on their characters.

In any event, the devastating effect of the charges and the trial on the family is up on screen for all to see. Arnold’s wife, Elaine, for example, doesn’t know what to believe and refuses to stand by her husband (she later remarried) – the recent interviews make it clear that there is still a lot of bitterness in the family.

To sum up, Capturing the Friedmans is a moving, frequently disturbing film that exerts an almost hypnotic fascination and will leave you with plenty to think about. It has several things to say about the elusiveness of the truth (particularly as defined by the courts) and it also makes valid points about mob hysteria regarding paedophilia as well as the fallibility of the legal system. It’s the sort of film that is guaranteed to fuel lengthy, heated pub discussions: in short, it demands to be seen. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

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Content updated: 26/09/2018 04:38

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