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March 03, 2004

Releasing the Friedmans?

David and I watched Capturing the Friedmans last night, and I have to say it is one of the most depressing documentaries I've seen in a long time. While it concerns accusations of mass child molestation against a middle-class father and son in Long Island, it sheds much more light on three other themes. Namely, dysfunctional families, the troubled intersection of truth and the American criminal justice system, and the inherent creepiness of home movies.

I don't think any amount of investigation could untangle the facts--and I'm pretty sure I don't want to watch "hours of previously unreleased footage" on the bonus disc (which we didn't get, having ordered the film on Netflix). The case is a member of a category we could call "nacreous events" where the layers of investigation, reportage, and rumor have covered the truth much as an oyster coats a grain of sand. We just can't see through to the truth anymore.

Of course it doesn't help that the filmmakers chose to tell the story in the best Dateline NBC method--taking the most dramatic path through already highly charged material. Slate has a great article arguing that (particularly given the additional information in the DVD release) the filmmakers' refusal to take more of a stand is morally questionable. (Without giving too much away for those who might like to see the movie, a lot hinges on the credibility of child witnesses who were pretty clearly bullied by police investigators in hours-long interrogations where they may have suggested some of the worst allegations.)

But back to those two other topics. First, the film would make almost anyone feel better about the mental health of their families. The Friedmans--whether or not they are vile criminals--are totally fucking nuts, with the possible exception of the mom, who seems relatively sane (which is to say, still certifiable). Oh, and the middle son Seth, who refused to participate in the film, has that arguing in favor of some level of normal psychic processes.

One of the main things that makes these people (particularly eldest son David) so crazy is their insistence on filming nearly every moment of familial collapse. Few things make me as crazy as hearing families argue (particularly children screaming at their parents), so the majority of the movie completely set my teeth on edge.

One has to wonder what would motivate someone (back in the late '80s, before the explosion of reality television) to film so much of such awful goings-on? David Friedman offers a lame excuse for one bit of filming, along the lines of "I think I thought if I filmed it I wouldn't have to remember it myself." Uh, right. David Friedman comes across as utterly insane--his belief in his father's and brother's innocence is enough to convince one that they must indeed be evil pedophiles.

Anyway, although we own a video camera, I hereby swear not to record any horriffic scenes of family argument or mental collapse. This film is almost enough to make me reconsider the whole wedding documentary thing. (Almost.) I'm just glad to be reminded that however odd or funny my family might occasionally be, we are deeply sane, healthy, and most of all loving.

Posted by jay at March 3, 2004 12:59 PM | TrackBack
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