"Capturing" a captivating inside look at a family's disintegration

by Eric Melin on June 20, 2003

in Print Reviews

Alright, I have to state up front that I didn’t quite see all of “Capturing the Freidmans.” (ed. note: Eric has since seen the film twice) We were playing in Baltimore two nights ago, and Bill and I found a two hour hole between soundcheck and the time we were needed to rock.

After a quick check of showtimes, we drove furiously to the nearest theater, knowing that we would probably miss a little bit of the movie, but hoping that the massive amounts of ads and previews before the film would mean we hadn’t missed much. By the time we literally raced up to the box office, it was ten minutes into the movie. Imagine a lack of annoying ads in a movie actually working against you! Oh, the irony.

So, technically, this is a review of the remaining one hour and 37 minutes of “Capturing the Friedmans.”

What I did see was pretty insane. In most documentaries, you are lucky to get a couple of scenes or interviews with the subject(s) that are frank and candid enough to lend credibility and insight to the project. Here, you get that and a whole case of chips ­ the yummy sour cream and onion kind.

The movie revolves around a Long Island family that is absolutely decimated by accusations of sexual molestation in the 1980s, and the hysteria that accompanies such talk. It turns out that one of the sons had a videotape fetish, and the family was so used to having a camera on during normal moments or even arguments, that they virtually forgot it was taping them at all.

This results in some of the most candid and startling behind-closed-doors footage I’ve seen on screen yet. While very public pre-trial proceedings are destroying their lives in the media, David Friedman’s camera is recording the parents and their son’s private discussions of the case. The interviews paint two sides of the story, guilty and not guilty. Police officers, relatives, lawyers, and plaintiffs all chime in for their versions of the events surrounding the trial. And some of them are very persuasive for each side.

But the real fascinating thing is watching how the Friedmans handle the emotional ups and downs at home.

I felt like I got to see the more subtle aspects of their personalities that interviews and trial footage just can’t come close to revealing. It was a strange, moving experience. The family’s inward tendencies seem to frazzle and explode. This is some raw and disturbing stuff.

Sometimes when I watch a movie, I am aware of my body language and how the movie is affecting it. During “Capturing the Friedmans,” my hands were up to my face or in front of my mouth quite a bit. It was almost as if I were a voyeur, knowing I shouldn’t be listening in, but fascinated by every look thrown and word spoken. It was kind of an awkward feeling.

I read somewhere that director Andrew Jarecki originally was planning a documentary about people who work as clowns in New York City, or something like that. When one of his clowns, David, opened up about his family history, and Jarecki also discovered all this amazing footage, he changed the film’s subject and a new documentary took shape. I’m sure that this made the better film.

Now I have to see it again so I can catch the first ten minutes to see if they are as amazing as the rest of “Capturing the Freidmans.”

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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