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Capturing the Friedmans Review

By Joe Lozito

Gall in the Family


In a stroke of luck surely to make him the envy of every amateur documentarian, Andrew Jarecki discovered, while filming footage of a New York birthday clown, that his subject David Friedman had a past that was far more interesting than anything the filmmaker might have hoped to capture. It seems that Mr. Friedman is the son of Arnold Friedman a computer teacher and convicted child molester from Great Neck, Long Island.

But wait, there's more. Much, much more, as Mr. Jarecki would soon discover. It seems that the Friedman family bought a video camera around the same time as their father's arrest and, in a reality-television-era orgy of forthrightness, they handed to Mr. Jarecki all 25 hours of home video footage, which documents the family's slow disintegration. The resulting film, "Capturing the Friedmans" is endlessly fascinating in its up-close-and-personal brutal honesty.

It's clear that the sheer amount and depth of material here was a little overwhelming to the first time director. The film is uneven in its pacing - Mr. Jarecki sets up one too many establishing shots of idyllic Long Island suburbs - and questionably holds back certain revelations, but at the same time the film is not manipulative. Even with its flaws, it is impressive that Mr. Jarecki and his team were able to weave together the family videos and subsequent interviews into such a logical and cohesive story.

Some of the footage, particularly a video diary by oldest son David, is so raw and candid that it's almost difficult to watch. Really, should this information be released for public consumption? And what does it say about David that he would allow it? The Friedman family appears like any other on your block. It is just this blandness that makes the film so compelling. It's a cliché, but yes, they could be the family next door.

There is a lot at work here: the family's bond (or lack thereof), the community's outrage (and potential McCarthy-esque tactics), the questionable work of the police and the lawyers. The film itself is a roller coaster ride: yes, he did it; no, he couldn't have. It's a tribute to the director and his editor Richard Hankin that he is able to hold your interest for so long. In the end, no one comes out smelling like roses. How could dorky computer teacher Arnold Friedman have been this "monster" behind closed doors? The evidence is all heresay; testimonies from children potentially pressured by the community and poor police investigation. Both sides have agendas and both are flawed. The truth, one would hope, lies somewhere in between. Mr. Jarecki lets you decide where.

What did you think?

Movie title Capturing the Friedmans
Release year 2003
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary In the process of creating a modest - and potentially dull - documentary about a New York birthday clown, first-time director Andrew Jarecki stumbled upon a goldmine of backstory about his subject's family, the patriarch of which is a convicted child molester. The resulting film, intercut with home video footage is an uneven but exceedingly fascinating portrait of a family unraveling from the inside out.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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