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Capturing the Friedmans (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Capturing the Friedmans

Capturing the Friedmans


Featuring Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, David Friedman, Jesse Friedman, Seth Friedman, Howard Friedman, John McDermott, Frances Galasso, Joseph Onorato, Judd Maltin, Abbey Boklan, Ron Georgalis, Scott Banks, Debbie Nathan, Jerry Bernstein, Peter Panaro, Lloyd Doppman and Jack Fallin.

Directed by Andrew Jarecki.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.  107  minutes.  Not Rated.

If this documentary proves nothing else, it proves that very few things are as simple as they appear in black and white.  Capturing the Friedmans is something of an American tragedy, an example of a family imploding under the weight of the members’ acts.

Arnold Friedman was a well-liked and honored fiftyish retired school-teacher, who kept his hand in by tutoring children in computers.  He had a perfect wife and three loving sons.  They appeared to be the ideal family, until Arnold’s demons came to light.  He was caught trading child pornography through the mail.  This led to an investigation that pointed to him and his youngest son Jesse for seducing and sodomizing dozens of young boys in his computer class.

Capturing the Friedmans is made up of many interviews, with neighbors, co-workers, lawyers, police and family members.  It gives almost a Rashoman effect; the stories contradict each other, witnesses recant their testimony and some of the proof looks shaky on hindsight.  The confusion and anger is still fresh fifteen years later.  It paints a baffling portrait of what may be a hideous crime.

The film takes a rather neutral stance on the Friedmans’ guilt or innocence.  Many of the interviews give the idea that the two Friedmans were somewhat railroaded by the legal system… of all the former students who are interviewed, only one (who is shadowed to stay anonymous) claims there was any sexual contact, the others still seem incredulous of the possibility or acknowledge they said what they thought the police wanted to hear.  However, it is quite clear that at least Arnold IS guilty of some of the charges against him (no concrete proof against Jesse is found.)

The most fascinating thing about this documentary is that Arnold and son David were both avid family filmmakers, so that most of the demolition of the family is caught on camera.  The sons turn on the mother, because they feel she is not supportive of the father.  The sons are also angry at the police, and at life in general, for placing them in this hellish predicament.

All the while, at the center of the whirlpool, Arnold Friedman seems like nothing so much as a quiet and defeated nebbish who can’t figure how his life came to this.  He always seems distant and somewhat removed, which may explain how he came to live his double life.  Capturing the Friedmans does not try to excuse his crimes; it just gives us a fascinating view of how those transgressions can tear a family apart.  (6/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003  All rights reserved. Posted: July 22, 2003.

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