Capturing the Friedman’s was both a disturbing and, yet, very engaging documentary. I was really intrigued about finding the truth of the claims posed against Mr. Friedman the whole way through. About an upper-middleclass family in the 1980’s living in Great Neck, New York, Capturing the Friedman’s tells the story of Professor Arnold Friedman and his family’s struggle once he is arrested for possessing child pornography magazines. Police further investigate the case and find that Arnold and his son, Jesse, had allegedly molested students during a computer class held in the Friedman’s home. However, what makes this documentary truly different is its perspective from both sides. It makes the audience feel for the victims of the alleged crimes, but also for the family being ripped apart by these accusations. We hear from each side and all the possibilities are lain out before the viewer.
The most obvious conclusion is that Arnold is, as the charges brought against him claim, a criminal, pervert, and all around disgusting human being. But at the same time we are able to see behind the scenes of the police investigation and find that the police interviewing the kids (allegedly) victimized by Friedman were being TOLD what happened to them instead of asked and ultimately scared out of their wits into agreeing that Arnold and Jesse had molested them. Not having any background in psychoanalysis, the police talking with the kids force them into believe that something happened to them that may have not even occurred. This doesn’t even to begin to describe the disaster hypnotizing a patient and having an agenda while doing it leads to.
From a filmmaker’s prospective, the director of this documentary (Andrew Jarecki) has some pretty amazing access to home videos of the family. One of the sons had just gotten a camera and used it to film the family’s decline into desperation as the Arnold and Jesse get prison sentences.
Jesse: “If he [Arnold] goes to jail for state charges, you know he’s not coming back.”
The brother filming, probably David, then zooms in on his fathers face to reveal his complete vulnerability and submission to the fact that he may be in prison for life or worse – the death penalty.
One rack focus in the film reminds me of a rack focus from Ellen's film Troup 1500. The camera focuses on the grate over the window in the courthouse, then to the holly bush outside of it. This is much like how Ellen focused on the wire fence at the jail where the girl scouts’ mothers were held, then outside of it. I think in both cases this simple imagery depicts a longing for freedom and says so much about the subjects of the documentaries.
All in all the home video cameraman is remarkable and Jarecki was so lucky to have this footage available to him. In the night before Arnold must begin his jail sentence David or Jesse film him playing a jovial tune on the piano, almost a celebration of his final hours of freedom. The cameraman films Arnold’s hands playing (an over the shoulder shot) which is an ordinary technique when someone is playing the piano, but then he goes to a close up of his face with the piano reflected in the lenses of his glass – such a beautiful shot!
Really,this scene almost brought me to tears. Arnold Friedman was a psychologically disturbed person who lived a miserable life – lying to himself and his family about his sexuality. In the end we’re left feeling ambivalent towards Arnold. We are disgusted by the possibilities of his actions, yet pity him and his family.
But, seriously, you need to watch this. Who wants to miss out on a movie about clowns, pedophilia, possibly shady police work, hypnotism gone wrong, and lots of uncomfortable home video footage of family fights?