Capturing The Friedmans
With a heavy sigh of relief the clichéd tradition can be retired of invoking Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon
every time a movie features an investigation from different perspectives. Andrew Jarecki’s documentary for HBO, Capturing The Friedmans
, does nothing as simple as retell the same event from a handful of views; Jarecki structures his documentary like an organic, ever evolving and dynamically changing entity, and through his marvelous film it seems that what truly happened within the Friedman family will always be a matter of debate.
An outwardly normal upper-middleclass Jewish family, the Friedmans suffered a shock in the mid-80s when
the family’s father Arnold and one of his three sons were accused of pedophilia. In a unique bit of luck, the family’s oldest son David videotaped several family interactions between the time the charges where brought and the sentences were carried out. Jarecki intercuts this footage with a large amount of far more innocent home movies of the Friedmans when the sons were children and more carefree, as well as tracking down and interviewing a plethora of those involved with the case more than a decade ago, including lawyers, the judge that heard the case, several victims, and officers of the sex unit division of the Friedmans’ small town. Aside from the peculiar but accepted fact that the Friedmans spent an unusual amount of time documenting themselves, both before and during their crisis, Jarecki’s film is an unsettling revelation of how perception varies, and the implications of this on the justice system, public scrutiny, and the documentary genre that this film adheres to.
As Capturing The Friedmans
moves forward, charting the family’s story chronologically, Jarecki peppers the story with the insights of various outside observers as well as from the mother and two sons (the father recently died in prison and the middle son refused to take part in the film), and Jarecki structures it in such a way that each time someone speaks-be it a shadowed victim describing the crimes, or the Friedman matriarch struggling to explain the strange new dynamic between her sons and her husband after the crime went public-the entire picture needs to be reevaluated. And then someone will speak again and
flip the whole picture up side down. What comes to light is as hideous as it is complex, and as distorted as it is poignant. There are dozens of unexplainable layers to the Friedmans’ story that are touched upon in the film, from the nature and background to the crimes themselves, to deep-rooted problems within the family structure and how these eventually led to the behavior during the family’s crisis. What results is an incredibly engrossing story that seems to have no end as Jarecki shifts back and forth, continually introducing new information, new criticism and even recent events, all of which force the viewer to continually go back and rethink their conclusions until the only conclusion is that Capturing The Friedmans
presents a situation with no absolutes. The implications of this film on the documentary genre is grand indeed, and no film has so meticulously, exhaustingly proven how impossible it is to grab a hold of a tangible, singular truth.