Capturing the Friedmans
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Director Andrew Jarecki began working on a documentary about Silly Billy, New York's most successful party clown, David Friedman. He ended up with a much more ambitious film about the man's family history and a scandal that rocked the Long Island town of Great Neck.
Jarecki must have been surprised at Friedman's remarkable generosity in detailing the destruction of his upper-middle-class Jewish family. But by the end of his journey, he had a treasure trove of information from the family as a whole to work with. As it turns out, the Friedman men were obsessed with video cameras. Although David's mother, Elaine, was not so fond of them, his father, Arnold, enthusiastically cooperated with his sons David, Jesse, and Seth in the video documentation of everything from family vacations to dinner conversations.
Thus, in the mid-'80s, when Arnold was arrested on charges of possessing child pornography, the boys began filming their disbelief and their debates about their father's level of guilt. They even filmed Arnold being taken away from the house.
That was just the beginning. Soon, they were filming their own emotional breakdowns as the community came alive with accusations about perverse sex crimes that allegedly took place in the Friedmans' basement, where Arnold, with the help of his sons, taught computer classes to children from the surrounding neighborhood. Many children testified that they had not only been molested, but also raped, as Arnold supposedly lured them into shockingly perverse games. When the middle son, Jesse, at that time 18, was also implicated in the crimes, things started splitting at the seams.
The most compelling thing about
My full review is at Looking Closer.
Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) says, "The story never slumps as the viewer is continually called upon to size up who is credible and who seems to be altering the facts. Jarecki also manages not to demonize anyone while at the same time never making light of the serious and repellant nature of the crimes. The result is a troubling, fascinating film that certainly points to the frailty of the human condition."
Jerry Langford (Movieguide) calls it "an artful approach to a genuine American tragedy. It is, therefore, an unpleasant and uninterrupted documentation of sin and its tragic effect on the Friedman family and the community. Though this movie deals with graphic subject matter, it intriguingly sheds the light of truth on tough and rarely discussed issues."
The rave reviews coming in from mainstream critics can be found here.
Victor Morton (The Matthews House Project) reviews the troubling documentary