Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
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Review Date: August 27, 2003
Director: Andrew Jarecki
Producers: Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling
Arnold Friedman
Elaine Friedman
David Friedman
Jesse Friedman
A documentary about a good ol' fashioned American family living in Long Island, NY, whose paternal leader was a respected high school science teacher, the mother, a doting housewife and the three sons, able, smart and outgoing. Then one day, the cops pick the father up for dozens of charges of child molestation, as well as his younger son, and proceed to discover child pornography in their household to boot. This film documents the steps that this family went through before the event, during the actual chaos (via their own videotaped sessions in the house) and after the sentences, the ramifications and the loss of their family unit.
It's hard to "rate" any documentary since at the end of the day, many of them are simply "reporting" something factual so it's difficult to really break it down into what works and what doesn't, but in the case of most good documentaries, I'm usually pulled into the world of the subject matter, prone to ask questions and receive answers, left to think and ponder about it all afterwards, and appreciate the whole as something worthwhile, comprehensive and almost always...educational. In the case of CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, I got a good sense of all those elements, but having heard the multitude of praises that had been flowered upon the film, I guess I was expecting to be a little more blown away a la BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. Despite being a very well-rounded, multi-faceted documentary which challenges, brings up various points of view and interpretations and presents a number of possible scenarios, it also felt like an elongated version of many of these types of "molestation" or "child abuse" cases that I've tuned into on any of the major network news programs like "Dateline", "48 Hours" or "20/20" sometimes. Being an inordinately habitual Oprah watcher during my teen years also put me in touch with similar wrongdoings, and despite the one in this film being a lot more complex, secretive and perhaps even, diabolical, I can't say that much about this interpretation of said topic shed any new light on it.

Having said that, the film does work as a whole and is put together in such a way that you really get a sense of how things went down throughout the actual circumstance. The film's unique point of view also includes real videotape filmed by the Friedmans themselves as they were living through this horrific event, providing the audience with a true voyeuristic sense of what they were going through as the actual (or false) accusations were being brought against them. Much like my partner in movie crime, I didn't think there was any black or white decision rendered about these people in the end (which apparently is the case for the director of the film as well), but if someone were to ask me for my thoughts, I would definitely have a point of view according to what I was presented. Kind of like a jury member, I suppose. One element that came up repeatedly in the film was someone saying one thing about what "supposedly" happened, and then a minute later, someone recounting the same events, but from their differing point of view. The sad part is that, at times, both sides would make ridiculous claims which simply could not be true-the whole "leap frop" game seemed about as realistic as the tooth-fairy, while the cops' claim that "every child" was molested was also not realistic- especially when there was never any hard evidence presented...just word of mouth through coercion at times, hypnosis at others, etc... Other times, you weren't even sure if the person speaking was being honest to themselves, but not to us, being as they might have psychological issues themselves or were caught up in some "mass hysteria" about child molestation in this particular neighborhood.

I think the actual facts of this case are pretty obvious in the end, and whether or not the father was guilty of all the crimes for which he was accused (which I don't think he was), one thing is for sure and that is that this family didn't seem to be taking any of the charges against them all that seriously (even the nights before major life-altering events, they would be goofing around, making jokes outside the courtroom-dude, even if you didn't do it...how about you settle down and consider your behavior...your dad has admitted to having molested kids in the past and to diggin' kiddie porn...isn't that wrong to you somehow??) The mother seemed to be the only one actually taking much of it seriously, but she too, had her own head issues and didn't come across as the brightest bulb in the pack. All of this might've contributed to me not having much of an emotional connection or compassion toward any of them either. A mysterious cloud also hovered over the entire documentary as the three sons from the family were present in all of the old family home movies, but one (Seth), apparently "didn't want to take part in the documentary." That might say something as well. In the end, everyone will certainly have some sort of point of view on this whole affair, but as a cinematic presentation, I definitely thought this was worthy of a viewing, especially if psychology, the use of video and the topic of child molestation in all of its grossest forms, "interests" you. An absorbing examination. This film might not solve the entire puzzle by the end credits, but it certainly puts together enough pieces for you to be able to hypothesize what the bigger picture might've looked like.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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