Documentary is simply defined as presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film. Honestly, presenting facts objectively is a tough thing to do for a documentary filmmaker. Heck, Michael Moore has made a career of using outright lies to push an agenda in his documentaries. A truly great documentary filmmaker presents the subject matter free of his own prejudices. With emotion that encases you for days afterward, director Andrew Jarecki truly shines Capturing the Friedmans.
The Friedmans first strike you as a traditional suburban family: Arnold Friedman the school teacher, his wife Elaine, the stay-at-home mom, and their three children David, Seth, and Jesse. Along with being a teacher, Arnold begins one of the first computer courses in the Long Island area back in the mid 80s. Helping him teach this course out of their home is his 18 year old son, Jesse. The image of their traditional nuclear family is shattered when both father and son, Jesse, are charged with many counts of child molestation.
Jarecki weaves interviews with family members, primarily David, with home videos that show how this once normal family was shaken to the core by accusations and aftermath. During the entire ordeal, the family kept making home videos that capture their complete deterioration and inability to cope. I cannot put into words how emotionally gripping these home videos are, to watch a family just implode is disturbing.
Equally moving is Jarecki’s presentation of this truly complex story. Arnold definitely had a weakness for little boys in pornographic magazines. Disgusting as that is, does that mean he committed the almost absurd crimes he was accused of? Jarecki interviews cops who, at best, just ignored facts and went all alone on accusations by children; Accusations that were sometimes coerced and sometimes “found” while under hypnosis.
Strangely, I found myself waiting for the shoe to drop when Arnold and Jesse would be exonerated or proven innocent. That moment had to come right? It never happened nor did Jarecki try to convince us it should. For every moment of doubt presented, a moment with Arnold admitting to having molested a child previously appears. I caught myself yearning for a truth that may or not exist. He definitely was a pedophile but was he guilty of the outlandish crimes labeled against him? The courts said yes but Jarecki allows the viewer to make his own assumption.
I thought I was watching Capturing the Friedmans and the effects on the family; Unbeknownst to me, I myself became captured by the documentary, and its emotional grip on me hasn’t diminished. It’s funny when a great filmmaker makes me wish it was in the hands of a less responsible director like Michael Moore. I wanted the facts and sadly, that is what Andrew Jarecki gave me.
A documentary is not a place where great extras are usually present. Capturing the Friedmans does deliver some interesting footage, however. Primarily we get to see some of the home videos that didn’t make the documentary. Along with that home video footage, you can also see some heated debates captured by the filmmaker. The most interesting extras are a short film about Jesse Friedman’s life now (the short film that led Jarecki to this story) and a Charlie Rose interview with Jarecki. Also, if you want to see New York’s finest at their best, you can see them having an altercation at the New York premiere of the movie. I guess the truth of their actions on screen was tough to stomach.
I’m not sure I would purchase this DVD. I don’t know if I could stand a second viewing. That makes it hard to completely recommend watching Capturing the Friedmans even if it is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. Will I ever be emotionally read to see it again?