Capturing the Friedmans
If this documentary proves nothing else, it proves that
very few things are as simple as they appear in black and white.
Capturing the Friedmans is something of an American tragedy, an example
of a family imploding under the weight of the members' acts.
Arnold Friedman was a well-liked and honored fiftyish retired
school-teacher, who kept his hand in by tutoring children in computers.
He had a perfect wife and three loving sons. They appeared to be the
ideal family, until Arnold's demons came to light. He was caught
trading child pornography through the mail. This led to an
investigation that pointed to him and his youngest son Jesse for seducing
and sodomizing dozens of young boys in his computer class.
Capturing the Friedmans is made up of many interviews, with neighbors,
co-workers, lawyers, police and family members. It gives almost a
Rashoman effect; the stories contradict each
other, witnesses recant their testimony and some of the proof looks shaky on
hindsight. The confusion and anger is still fresh fifteen years later.
It paints a baffling portrait of what may be a hideous crime.
film takes a rather neutral stance on the Friedmans' guilt or innocence.
Many of the interviews give the idea that the two Friedmans were somewhat
railroaded by the legal system... of all the former students who are
interviewed, only one (who is shadowed to stay anonymous) claims there was
any sexual contact, the others still seem incredulous of the possibility or
acknowledge they said what they thought the police wanted to hear.
However, it is quite clear that at least Arnold IS
guilty of some of the charges against him (no concrete proof against Jesse
The most fascinating thing about this documentary is that
Arnold and son David were both avid family filmmakers, so that most of the
demolition of the family is caught on camera. The sons turn on the
mother, because they feel she is not supportive of the father. The
sons are also angry at the police, and at life in general, for placing them
in this hellish predicament.
All the while, at the center of the
whirlpool, Arnold Friedman seems like nothing so much as a quiet and
defeated nebbish who can't figure how his life came to this. He always
seems distant and somewhat removed, which may explain how he came to live
his double life. Capturing the Friedmans does not try to excuse
his crimes; it just gives us a fascinating view of how those transgressions
can tear a family apart. (6/03)
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Posted: July 22, 2003.