Friday, May 07, 2010

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

USA, 107 minutes, documentary
Director: Andrew Jarecki
Photography: Adolfo Doring

A family tragedy compounded by our own never-ending prurient complicity and hysterical (in every sense of that word) fears—though filmmaker Andrew Jarecki is very careful to never actually point the finger at the viewer. The first time I saw this I was astonished and outraged at the level of injustice in the criminal case it describes and that tore apart the Friedman family, an injustice that stands starkly visible even through all the obfuscating and infuriating complexities (and grows even more so with the extras offered on the DVD). The second time through, a few years later, I just found it enormously sad. The Friedmans themselves are the authors in many ways, of course, of their own implosion, or certainly its portrayal—literally so, in the fetish they embrace for relentlessly taping, filming, shooting, and otherwise recording practically every aspect of their lives, which is instrumental in making this documentary the richly varied and overwhelming viewing experience that it is. But that doesn't make them so different from many mid-century American families, who will recognize the fashions and styles and even the technologies of the documentation throughout. What makes the Friedmans different is that two of their members were accused of horrific crimes of child sexual abuse (which, in close examination, even Superman with all his strange alien superpowers granted by the yellow sun would have been hard pressed to accomplish, were he so inclined)—and more so, the twist of the knife of this tragic story, that one of them could all too easily be painted as psychologically capable of them, though likely never took the action, certainly not as alleged by police. The one indulgence Jarecki allows himself here, in an otherwise admirable job of walking a journalistic tightrope, is that he doesn't always manage to mask his contempt for the authorities and accusers, who frequently come across as the ignorant buffoons and petty attention-seeking lunatics (approximately respectively) that one is forced to conclude they must be. Stories like the one this tells are likely to become only more numerous and more and more widely understood for what they are with the passage of time. And, yes, of course there is a website for more information; with this family, how could there not be?

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