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Capturing the Friedmans More at IMDbPro »

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It Doesn't Go Away

Author: jmandc from California
30 June 2003

I saw this film at Sundance in January and its impact still has not abated. At Sundance, you have no idea what will happen to a movie afterwards. Since it was a documentary, I had hoped that maybe an HBO or Showtime would pick this up. What a pleasant surprise -- and testament to the film -- that it has received such wide release.

As other reviewers have noted, the film touches on so many different levels: the dysfunctional family dynamic, the child abuse hysteria, the over-ambitiousness of prosecutors, the transgression of man, and the denial of reality in dealing with trauma (just to name a few).

After the film -- which started at midnight -- there was a Q&A with Andrew Jarecki, Elaine Friedman and Jesse Friedman (who had received special permission from his probation officer to come). Indeed, it was eerie to have them in the flesh, answering questions at some rinky-dink movie theater in Utah at two in the morning. I assure you, the film captured the Friedmans exactly as they still are. Elaine still feels like the resentful victim of a family full of men, consumed more by the embarrassment of her husband and shunning by her sons than the defense of her family; Jesse still has an emotional immaturity and an extremely naive -- almost childlike -- view of the world. This is despite being in his mid-30s and serving 14 years in prison.

The film is gripping. Its images and messages will not leave you anytime soon, if ever. It's been almost six months for me, and I still haven't forgotten.

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Overwhelming, Amazing, Upsetting

Author: tink from United States
26 June 2003

I saw this documentary last night with three friends. One cried, the

other was speechless, and I couldn't sleep I was so jazzed up and

intrigued. This documentary is so fascinating and haunting. I alternated

through the film feeling furious that I had paid money to see a family

self destruct, elated with the heartfelt reunion between Jesse and his

mother, touched by David's willingness to ruin his career for Jesse, and

annoyed by the incompetent police. Other than Requiem for a Dream, never

has a film drawn out so many emotions from me at once. What was just as

interesting was the verbal reaction of the audience. I heard sighs of

frustration as Elaine babbled on, laughs when the detectives were

speaking, gasps at various information. At one point a man yelled out

bitch when Elaine was speaking. In the lobby on our way out so many

people were discussing it and on the subway I heard a couple arguing

about it. What a response! This powerful documentary affects everyone in

someway. See it twice. I am going again tonight because I am still so

overwhelmed and impressed by first time director Andrew Jarecki and the

Friedman's destruction. The mix of film, super 8, tv footage and home

photographs along with the expert editing will stay in your mind

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To view this film: an ethical dilemma

Author: ghinternet from DC
24 June 2003

I very much enjoy good documentary film making, and early on - watching the trailer and reading reviews - this film was solidly on my `To see' list. But after reading in my local paper that one of the Friedman sons refused to participate in the making of this film, my attitude has changed from interest, to uneasiness, to something boarding on revulsion.

I know that I would feel uncomfortable, and even betrayed, if my early and teenaged family life were shown to the world without my permission - despite its comparative banality and uneventfulness. And I would feel that way even if all the other members of my family had 'voted' to distribute our collective images against my desire for privacy. Yet that appears to have happened with this film.

Reviewers I have read have stated that this is a powerfully perceptive and emotional film, and that it leaves you feeling 'dirty' from having delved too deeply into other people's private lives. Despite what the others may have allowed, one of film's subjects has indicated that they do not give us permission to look.

Our society holds as a high ideal the privacy of the individual. In images that come out of natural disaster, violent crime, war, and even decades old images from the holocaust, we protect the anonymity of the innocent individual unless they expressly grant us the right to divulge it. I wonder if the filmmakers, in a tantalizing rush for their own edification, discarded the wishes of one of the Friedmans, something that they themselves would have demanded if it had been their early family lives up for exposure.

I can believe that the legal 'right' has been established to show these family images, but I do not feel I have the right to violate that one individual's privacy.

One of them said no; and no is no.

.then one day they came and exposed me. And I could say nothing because I was guilty as they were, for not speaking out and saying that all men have a right to privacy.

(with apologies to Charles Mingus)

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Dubious presentation of a disturbing story

Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California
21 June 2003

[S P O I L E R S]

"Capturing the Friedmans:" what does the title mean? First, filming them, and their filming themselves, "capturing" their own lives, or parts of them, on screen. This was "An American Family" that did its own documenting in the early days of video, the Seventies and Eighties. Along comes an inexperienced filmmaker, Andrew Jarecki, meaning to do a film on party clowns, and makes a discovery of a family's traumatic history. The father, Arnold Friedman, had a taste for boy pornography and was caught in a post office sting operation. This came at the height of the American hysteria over imagined satanic orgies involving children leading to trumped up descriptions of such orgies by pressured young people, to arrests and prosecutions, in various parts of the country. And it so happened that the nerdy Arnold Friedman, an award winning high school science teacher, also had a computer class at his house attended by young boys. Police got the names of the students and went to work on them. Prosecutions of Arnold and his youngest son Jesse followed and the family was destroyed.

It's clear from the pornography sting and from his own admissions that Arnold was indeed a pedophile. As a youth had had sexual encounters with younger boys and with a gay brother (which the brother does not remember; nor does the film reveal the brother to be gay till the end) and he had had arousing encounters with small boys at the beach as an adult. The extent of the latter is uncertain, and whether the boys were even aware of anything is unclear. Given Arnold's evidently repressed nature, probably the events and the arousal happened mostly in his mind. It's also clear that nothing whatever happened in the computer classes and that all the testimony was prompted by the police questioners just as similar testimony was elicited during the same period on the West Coast and elsewhere, during a period of hysteria documented by Debbie Nathan, a journalist interviewed for the movie.

Both Arnold and Jesse pleaded not guilty when arraigned. But a series of disasters followed. Arnold's previous pornography conviction was a bad beginning. The boys had always been a team and shared their dad's sense of humor and their mother had always felt left out, and now, in this horror, feeling betrayed already by the child porn case, the mother turned against her family and chose not to believe in her husband's innocence. Sadly, Arnold and Jesse did not have a top lawyer to defend them. And perhaps worst of all, Arnold collapsed with guilt and prepared for martyrdom, eventually caving in to his wife's suggestion that he plead guilty. Her ostensible assumption was that if her husband took on the guilt, things would go easier for Jesse. But this proved to be a grievous mistake and yet, incredibly, Jesse also decided to plead guilty and even made a tearful confession in court that was as hysterical and imaginary as the witnesses' testimony in the case. We never see the latter, but we see enough of the filmmaker's interviews long after the fact with witnesses, fellow students, and their parents to gather that it was all a result of hysteria, coercion -- and in the case of the most suspicious and talkative former witness, hypnosis.

And so the Friedman's were "captured" again, literally now, by a hysterical American society and by their own helplessness to resist that hysteria, captured and brought to ground, destroyed as a family and two of their members sent away. The 19-year-old Jesse served 14 years. His father was sentenced to life and committed suicide in jail by taking an overdose of an antidepressant. Jesse has recently been released, at 32, and been reunited with his mother, Elaine, who has remarried. The brother David, a top New York City party clown and the source of the documentary idea, may have his livelihood threatened now through the movie's revelations. The middle son, Seth, wisely refused to participate in Jarecki's project.

The Friedman's let themselves be taken advantage of. And they equally took advantage of themselves, filming their early moments of celebration and silliness, and then, in the crisis, filming their anger, their mutual hostility, and their despair. And finally today they have allowed themselves to be taken advantage of again by letting Jarecki proceed with his nosey, clumsy exploration of their ruined lives.

"You be the judge." "What really happened?" the movie's publicity luridly proposes. That is foolishness, of a wicked sort. There is nothing important that is not clear here -- including the bogus lack of bias of the filmmaker, who obviously knows the trial was a sham, and who confused the serious issues involved and further sullies the family's ruined reputation, and weakens his presentation of what could have been an extraordinarily compelling story, by hiding behind a mask of neutrality and coyly manipulating the order in which the facts are revealed.

This is not a good way to present a documentary. On the contrary. The lesson is that when you're dealing with facts there are two basic ways of presenting them. Either you lay them out in the order in which you discovered them, making your documentary a story of how you assembled your material. Or you present them completely for maximum clarity from the start, like a good news story "lead," with the rest that follows simply filling in the details. Jarecki unfortunately does neither, so the movie he made is a good portrait neither of his process nor of the facts.

For me the most disturbing elements of the story are Elaine's abandonment of the men and the sons' growing hostility to her, on the one hand, and Arnold's hangdog, pathological assumption of guilt, on the other. Elaine seems to have dealt with the nightmare by putting all the blame on the others. Arnold, in yet another family video, is curiously upbeat on the night before he went to jail, playing the piano, smiling, and talking more forcefully than he ever has before. It's as if he wanted to be sent away and the expectation of it was a tremendous release for him. His whole sad secret life, his pedophilia, could only be made public by his immolation and vilification for guarding it all these years. He had decided that he was the sacrificial lamb. For a moment he was fulfilled, going away to be punished for his sins and setting his family free. But of course it was not that simple and his happiness was not to last. In the reality of prison he was miserable and rejected and filled with the more terrible guilt of being the cause of his son Jesse's ruined life. Jesse was beaten and nearly killed in jail.

If this material sounds undigested and painful, that is the impression the movie leaves. There is no catharsis of tragedy and no revelation of truth, just the scandal and downfall of a family and a documentary profiting in a dubious fashion by that family's guileless willingness to tell all.

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"What's missing?"

Author: jimorris from Arlington, VA
13 June 2003

"Capturing the Friedmans" really does not capture the family, rather it captures the viewer. This is not a summer adventure film; it is a skillfully presented real life story of a family torn apart by a married homosexual pedophile. It presents a horrible set of situations but gives no real complete answers. There are many clues to misdeeds but these clues often contradict each other so you never are able to learn the truth. After watching this harrowing account - ask yourself - "What's missing?" {both in what you are seeing and what might have been included} GRADE = "A-"

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...that elusive thing called truth

Author: cranesareflying from usa
11 June 2003

This film is a continuous surprise, as events keep evolving that contradict what the viewer believes is the premise, and by the end, it is as hellish an experience as IRREVERSIBLE. What appears, at first, to be a closely-knit, middle class family with a penchant for home movies, capturing every waking moment on film, including the typically happy horseplay of children, turns instead into a cinematic revelation of each and every embarrassing family moment. The power of this film is the subject matter, pedophilia, in the manicured affluence of Great Neck, Long Island. Charged are the father and his teen-age son, who may himself have been abused by his father at an early age, but the individuals involved, the alleged perpetrators, the alleged victims, the neighbors, the police, an investigative reporter, the Sexual Crimes Unit, the defense attorneys, the District Attorneys, and even the presiding judge, all are scrutinized by the filmmaker when a host of contradictory information is revealed. The editing is extremely effective, as little by little, bits and pieces of information are carefully revealed, each continuously changing the complexion of the issues being examined. This myriad of `evidence' doesn't come close to revealing the truth, not as you and I would like to believe, not to a degree of certainty, but is instead a bizarre RASHOMON-experience of mixed-up, partial truths, with plenty of never-ending denials. These denials, on the part of the father, the son, and the loving family that simply can't bear to believe these allegations, are perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of the film, as such intimate, personal awkwardness repeatedly captured on film, simply makes the viewer cringe with discomfort.

However, the film is beautifully composed, mixing family photographs and videos with documentary footage, the subject is thoroughly examined. There was a little of the secrecy of AUTO FOCUS to this film, only unlike the outlandish sexual activism and nonchalance shown there, the repression here is so severe it's emotionally suffocating, and we are left with the devastating after-effects, literally, of chaos and turmoil. These broken parts will never be put back in place again, and the sick feeling in our stomach is likely to be our own unease with our failed attempts to come to terms with so gripping a subject. This is a shattering film experience.

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Author: veganrus from New York
10 June 2003

Wow! I saw this film over the weekend and I completely agree that the reality is much more powerful than fiction. It was one of the few times I was ever in a movie in NYC and when the credits rolled people did not get up and run for the exit -- just sat in their seats, almost stunned, instead. I have not been able to stop thinking about this film since Saturday night. I don't want to say anything about what is IN the film, but if you are wondering whether or not to see this film the answer is, "Don't miss it. You'll never forget this movie, ever."

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best film of the year so far

Author: from new york, new york
10 June 2003

awesome film - excellent on all levels - the direction, story telling from different viewpoints (including the director's) - the sound track and sound editing - the chilling mood, yet comfort zone the viewer is made to feel is right on the mark -

the directors ability to present this sad, twisted, laughable family - in such an intriguing and insightful manner is remarkable - especially with excellent pacing and timing in divulging information -

truly an outstanding work and definitely the frontrunner for the oscar at this point -

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Shockumentary meets Roshamon

Author: getreel ( from New York City
7 June 2003

`There's your version, there's my version and there's the truth,' is at the murky heart of Andrew Jarecki's brilliant and disturbing, `Roshamon-like' Shockumentary, `Capturing the Friedmans.'

I can't stop thinking about this movie, I've seen it 3 times and each time I believe something different. Like some cubistic courtroom nightmare, each character adamantly tells their version of the truth. The masterful way the filmmakers enlist the viewer as juror, carefully revealing the 'evidence', is at once courageous and exasperating, never manipulative. This is what documentary filmmaking is all about.

What phenomenal luck or fate, while making a movie about Magician Clowns who entertain at privileged New Yorkers children's parties (David Friedman did my sons 4th Birthday), Jarecki and his crew wound up capturing the Friedmans in a way they never could have imagined.

The rich film (not video) and lush score, juxtapose the harsh reality and hysterical blindness of justice, making it even more painful to watch. One particularly haunting scene, a tearful David, alone in his underwear, raging at some future viewer, is so visceral and intimate, you almost have to look away.

Perhaps David and Jesse are in some sense relieved that their truth is finally told. How fortunate they are to have stumbled upon such a noble facilitator as Andrew Jarecki. I met Jesse at a screening recently and was moved by his gentle kindness and David's choice to exonerate his brother over a successful career, is the essence of devotion. The courage of these brothers and of the filmmakers, should garner an Oscar and more importantly, set the record straight. This is truly filmmaking as healing art.

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One of the finest documentaries I've seen

Author: jreents from Chicago, IL
7 June 2003

There is no way to discuss the content of Capturing the Friedmans without destroying the impact of watching the story unfold before you, so I won't. But the following is my version of a recommendation:

Andrew Jarecki was present at the screening I attended and was available afterwards for a Q&A session with audience members. During this time he revealed that the original cut of the film lasted about 5 1/2 hours, but was cut down to its current 2 hour version (presumably for financial reasons). Suffice it to say that I'd eagerly watch 5 1/2 hours of Jarecki's film - or even 10 1/2 hours. This is one of the finest documentaries I've ever seen.

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