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Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

  Directed by: Andrew Jarecki
Starring: Arnold Friedman, David Friedman, Elaine Friedman, Howard Friedman, Jesse Friedman
Links: Capturing the Friedmans on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD
Genre: Documentary

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

Capturing the Friedmans (2003) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Brother's Keeper (1992) and pearly's review of The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005).

"Uniquely thought-provoking" - a review by pearly

For someone who watches a lot of fictional movies, a documentary can prove quite challenging. Often, this challenge is what ends up making the documentary more enthralling than the last ten movies that the person has seen. It is quite possible for this to be the case with Capturing the Friedmans.

What makes Capturing the Friedmans such an excellent documentary is not really the interviews that director Andrew Jarecki have put together. These tell a powerful story, and certainly form the basis of the whole thing. But it's the home video footage that really makes Capturing the Friedmans special. As well as this footage, there is also music (Jazzbo Mambo) created by father Arnold Friedman, under the name of Arnito Rey when he was younger. Without this footage and music, it would be just another documentary.

The Friedman family had documented their lives with moving image for as long as they had been a family, with super-8 type silent stuff from before the current generation of kids were even born, right up to the events that surround the thrust of the documentary. Unlike most families, the Friedmans not only caught holidays and special occasions on camera, but they also filmed one another in everyday moments, and even the most trying of times, like when members of the family had just been arrested and so on. Seeing all of these events from the point of view of the family at the time that the events were going on, and then having the context of the interviews and documentary aides brought together by Jarecki make this film truly unique. At times, you cannot believe what you are seeing - that the footage has truly been shot at the time that it has, and that you're seeing such intimate secret moments from within a family unit that's going through tremendous turmoil.

The story of this family is told within the documentary in virtually chronological order. If you don't already know the story, then you don't know what is coming next, and you're surprised at each turn. This gives you a chance, if you're not already familiar with the details of the real life happenings, to get into a comfort zone with what's going on, before new pieces of the puzzle are laid out before you. This seems to be Jarecki's aim, to settle you into one way of thinking, and then challenge that view. This happens over and over again throughout the course of the film.

And this is, of course, one of the things that makes Capturing the Friedmans more challenging to watch. It is not like a Hollywood blockbuster where, in most cases, you can figure out what's going to happen next, or even if you can't, you can be quite sure that everything will be tied up neatly by the end. This is not the case with this documentary - the lives of the people continue; there isn't really an ending, just an appropriate place to stop for now; and furthermore, the ends are most certainly not tied up neatly. You're left not knowing which way north is, and if you do have opinions, then discussing them with friends afterwards is likely to switch it all upside-down in your head again. Life isn't as clear-cut as the movies make it out to be.

Aside from the intriguing story and the amazing footage that make up Capturing the Friedmans, there is a third element: the people behind the story. The Friedman family are, for better or worse, absolutely fascinating people. They simultaneously come across as being as nutty as a fruitcake, as well as being just another boring family who has their ups and downs, but have somehow fallen into the strangest situation.

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. If you're looking for the kind of film that will become bait for dinner conversations for the next three weeks, then Capturing the Friedmans is perfect. About whether you think that Arnold and Jesse Friedman were guilty, you can make up your own mind, and you will probably need more information than just what's contained within this film to make that decision. But you should agree that Capturing the Friedmans is an excellent film.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Sat 27 Mar 2004

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