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In the late 1980's, the Friedmans - father and respected computer and music teacher Arnold Friedman, mother and housewife Elaine Friedman, and their three grown sons, David Friedman, Seth Friedman and Jesse Friedman - of Great Neck, Long Island, are seemingly your typical middle class American family. They all admit that the marriage was by no means close to being harmonious - Arnold and Elaine eventually got divorced - but the sons talk of their father, while also not being always there for them, as being a good man. This façade of respectability masks the fact that Arnold was buying and distributing child pornography. Following a sting operation to confirm this fact, the authorities began to investigate Arnold for sexual abuse of the minor-aged male students of his computer classes, which he held in the basement of the family home. Based on interviews with the students, not only was Arnold charged with and ultimately convicted of multiple counts of sodomy and sexual abuse of these ... Written by
Interesting but I did wonder WHY I was watching it
In 1984 a seemingly normal, middleclass Jewish family is ripped apart by allegations of child abuse. Arnold Friedman comes to the attention of the authorities when child pornography is found in his post, however this soon opens up to dozens of charges that state Arnold and his 18 year old son systematically abused the children in their computer club. This documentary follows the story using interviews and home movie footage from the time.
I came to this film as a fan of documentary features, despite not really knowing anything about it; the trailers had been careful to be very coy about the nature of the event that ripped the family apart - a coyness that was not carried into the film. As such I found it very difficult viewing, and many others may wish to avoid this as it is not a fun way to spend 90 or so minutes as descriptions are a bit too graphic at times and some may find the allegations upsetting. The film follows the allegations though to the very end and it is almost consistently engaging - only near the end did I start to feel fatigue; given the subject matter this film is heavy going and could have lost some running time. The film is difficult to describe and, after seeing it, I'm not sure why anyone would really want to see it.
It is not as simple as exposing the truth. If anything the film seems to be pointing out how truth is actually a very easy thing to control - it highlights bad practice by the authorities, weaknesses in the testimonies and areas where mistakes (or lies) had been made. This makes it more difficult - it basically requires us to care about the injustice done to Arnold but at the same time telling us he is a paedophile. To many of us this is an abhoration and it is easy to confuse a paedophile with a child abuser, however many of the things he confesses to in his past are horrid and it made him very hard to get behind. This is a big problem as the film is complex both subject wise and morally, again making it very hard work.
However unpleasant the subject matter, the film is worth seeing to see how one family is destroyed by a witch-hunt that would happen just the same today as it did then. As one of the police officers comments - even being accused of this crime basically means that the accused's life is over. The home movie footage is well used and puts us in a situation where we don't have to rely on the interviews to tell us how things went.
Overall this is a gripping film but one that deals with a morally complex subject that makes it very hard work to watch and is certainly not going to fill a cinema on a Saturday night! Several times I thought about leaving the film as I was simply bewildered by it, not knowing what it was saying, what I was mean to be feeling or even why I had come to see a film about a paedophile who had been accused of multiple counts of child abuse. For that reason I wondered why this film had proved so popular - who, upon hearing the subject matter, thinks that this is the film for them? Certainly the handful of people in the cinema with me (on the opening weekend) seemed to contest to the limited `appeal' of this feature. It is a gripping and interesting film, but I have no intention of seeing it again and doubt I could.
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