Thursday, July 26, 2007

Capturing The Friedmans (2003)


I figured it was high time to throw a documentary into the mix, and I could think of none better to write about than this one. I think the 2000's have produced a lot of fascinating documentaries, and it makes me happy to see that there is a growing acceptance of documentaries in the marketplace these days. I think if reality television has yielded anything positive, the public's willingness to watch more documentaries would be the first thing I would think of.

This documentary has an interesting backstory, which I think would be a great place to start when discussing this film. Initially, director Andrew Jarecki set out to make an innocuous documentary about children's birthday entertainers. Through interviewing his subjects, he discovered one of them had an intriguing past and scrapped his original plan to focus on this man's story and the tale of his family history.

The Friedmans were an unremarkable, middle class Jewish family in Great Neck, NY. They had a passion for recording home movies, which makes the story all the more compelling.

While everything was seemingly normal, everything came crashing down when the father, Arnold Friedman, is arrested for molesting young boys, and the youngest son, Jesse, is arrested as his accomplice.

What follows is nothing short of phenomenal. Through the testimonials from people directly involved, you get multiple viewpoints: you hear stories from the abused, you hear stories from other people discrediting the victims saying that things were either completely fabricated or at the very least, embellished. You hear from law enforcement officials directly related to the case who speak of the overwhelming evidence against Arnold and Jesse, while you also hear from people who discuss the shoddy police work, the leading questions directed at children, who tend to make questionable witnesses that are susceptible to the power of suggestion.

While hearing the various people speak, I found myself getting mixed emotions. Just as soon as I thought they were damned, something came to light that seems to exonerate them. Then once convinced that Arnold and Jesse are victims of the system, I'd find myself convinced again of their guilt. I felt the cynical and idealistic sides of me fighting for domination while watching this.

But what made the documentary even more absorbing was the home movies. While you see them in happier times, you slowly watch a family disintegrating, while battling between what their heads think and what their hearts feel, yet the change in emotions comes at different times for all of the family members, which leads to some of the most brutal, hateful things coming to the surface about one another.

Have you ever been over to the home of a couple you know, and they get into an ugly argument, where bitterness, resentment, and lowblows are tossed around, and you almost feel like you are hearing things that you shouldn't hear, and every impulse in your head is telling you to leave, but you also feel like you should stay? That is how I felt while watching these home movies.

Yet, with all of those feelings of anger within the family, 20 years has not done much to restore those old wounds. All of those feelings of betrayal and hurt come bubbling back to the surface in the present-day interviews.

I recall watching this film in the early summer of 2003 at the Tampa Theater, and when the credits began to roll, I couldn't leave my seat because my knees were almost shaking from the tension the past 1:47 had put me through. Such a range of emotions during that time. The film, probably more than any other documentary I've seen, covers so much ground so efficiently. It raises so many questions, not only of the Friedman's guilt or innocence, but also about police procedure, about society's reaction to accusations of pedophilia and the groupthink and hysteria that comes with it. While I've watched a lot of fascinating documetaries this decade, none of them has stuck with me or had the effect that Capturing The Friedmans had on me.

1 comment:

For Your Speculation said...

Oh, totally agree. Loved this one and I was so psyched that it actually managed to get in at the Oscars.

I remember getting a free screening pass to see this at the local indie theatre. I made the grave mistake of taking my mom to see it, and while she appreciated the filmmaking, she didn't care for the subject matter. I'm still mad we had to leave right after the screening, because I think they were going to have a Q&A with one of the producers.

Also, gotta throw some love out to Andrea Morricone for his wonderful score that would make his dad proud.