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Capturing the Friedmans (2002)

Cast: Arnold Friedman, Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, more...
Director: Andrew Jarecki, Andrew Jarecki
    see all cast/crew...
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: HBO Home Video
Genre: Documentary, Biographies, Political & Social Issues
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
    see additional details...

Arnold and Elaine Friedman were a seemingly typical couple living in Great Neck, NY, in the 1980s. Arnold was an outgoing and well-liked schoolteacher with an interest in electronics who also ran a private computer school out of their home. Elaine, a reserved but caring woman, helped look after the couple's three sons, Jesse, Seth, and David. All appeared to be happy in their lives until November 1987, when police raided the Friedman home after Arnold and Jesse were accused of multiple counts of child molestation. A search revealed that Arnold owned a sizable collection of child pornography, and he confessed to some of the charges placed against him; Jesse, however, firmly insisted he was innocent. As the investigation against the Friedmans went on, public opinion regarding the case became more and more heated, but not all of the testimony against Arnold and Jesse matched up, and some began to wonder just how many of the charges filed against the family had merit. Remarkably enough, in the midst of these crises which threatened to destroy the family from within, the Friedmans continued to take part in one of their favorite pastimes -- shooting home videos of their day-to-day lives, offering a fly-on-the-wall look at a family struggling (and often failing) to hold themselves together in the wake of unthinkable accusations. Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki not only documented the legal and emotional struggles of the Friedman family with his own cameras, but was given access to the family's archive of home videos, and the result was Capturing the Friedmans, a documentary which keeps its primary focus on the Friedman family while also investigating the merits or faults in the charges levied against them. Capturing the Friedmans received an enthusiastic reception in its screening at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Bonus Disc Special Features:

  • Unseen home movies from inside the Friedman house
  • Great Neck Outraged
  • New witnesses & evidence
  • Uncut footage of the prosecution's star witness
  • Friedman family scrapbook and hidden audio tapes
  • The original short film that led to the discovery of David Friedman's secret story
  • Jesse's Life Today
  • An altercation at the film's New York premiere
  • The Judge speaks out at the Great Neck premiere
  • A special DVD-ROM section with key documents from the family and the case

GreenCine Staff Pick, February 26, 2004: One of those times we can confidently call a Bonus Disc essential viewing. Outside the Frame is the companion disc to Andrew Jarecki's brilliant, Oscar-nominated documentary and whereas the feature film went to great pains at impartiality (although some would argue this point) in the case of Arnold and Jesse Friedman, the bonus materials are less obliged to do so, seeming a bit more sympathetic to Jesse's case. But with an incredible array of extras, including previously unseen home movies (seeing Arnie's retirement party is a bit creepy and sad); a very illuminating video FAQ of sorts, taken from real Q&A sessions recorded after screenings, and some intense discussion, the extras here fully round out this heart-wrenching story.

The most significant section of the disc is "The Case," which will raise many new doubts into the merits of Jesse's sentence and incarceration, shedding light by revealing additional suspects in the case. Especially memorable is a damning secret tape (recorded by the mother of one of the Friedman's computer students) wherein the investigators completely badger and prod the boy who was denying anything happened, even going so far as to put words in his mouth. "Your son was a wise guy," said Detective Hatch, "and I didn't like his answers." Also illuminating: seeing more about how Great Neck parents reacted to, and meddled in, the case -- planning strategies, angry phone messages; an update on Jesse today, which I couldn't help but find touching; and the heated discussion that followed the film's premiere, including an angry rebuttal from the judge who presided on the case. It's fascinating to see how high emotions still run in a town that will likely never be the same, especially given the notoriety of the film. Also included on the bonus disc is "Just a Clown," Andrew Jarecki's fun short film featuring David Friedman, the most popular children's party clown in Manhattan, who ultimately, reluctantly, lead Jarecki to his family's dark closet. The short works well on its own, but takes on a whole 'nother subtext than it normally might have. And a Charlie Rose interview with Jarecki rounds out the package nicely.

Capturing the Friedmans, along with its extra materials, is a worthy cousin to PBS seminal 70's series An American Family, which traced the similarly self-destructive behavior of the Loud family (although in that case, the filmmakers were all outsiders, whereas the Friedmans captured much of the footage themselves). After watching the doc and this bonus disc, one is ultimately left with the sinking feeling that most everyone involved in this case was in some way a victim.--Craig Phillips

GreenCine Member Ratings

Capturing the Friedmans (2002)
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7.53 (463 votes)
Capturing the Friedmans: Outside the Frame (Bonus Disc) (2002)
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8.23 (57 votes)

GreenCine Member Reviews

Harrowing and Powerful by jamkat79 March 24, 2004 - 2:48 PM PST
8 out of 8 members found this review helpful
Jarecki has obviously watched his Errol Morris, but he never lets his filmmaking become too self-conscious. His camerawork is subtle and beautiful, and the home-movies themselves are almost too good to be believed.

This film is a fascinating, disturbingly-intimate look at a family trying to weather a nightmare. An important document of human frailty, love, and strength.

Sentence first . . . by MDixon January 30, 2004 - 1:32 PM PST
12 out of 12 members found this review helpful
verdict afterwards. At least, that's what I thought after about the first third of this film - but that's the beauty of it. Watching the whole thing, and listening to the director and producer's commentary adds a whole nuther layer of doubt and complications, I came to doubt the airtightness of the case which is apparently being presented in the first part. But, watch it for yourself . . . the use of the home movies is brilliant, and they probably reveal more of Arnold's character than would have been revealed if he had been interviewed. Certainly raises more questions than it answers, and deserves all the acclaim it is receiving.

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