Say: Kill your Daddies"
those of you who like your Bad Dads straight up, no CGI, and with
a beer chaser, see Capturing the Friedmans, the best movie/film/documentary
of my summer.
Andrew Jarnecki, the CEO and founder of Moviefone, set out to make
a documentary about "Silly Billy," the top birthday party clown
in Manhattan. Once Jarnecki discovered that "Billy" was actually
David Friedman the son of convicted pedophile Arnold Friedman, and
had a stash of family videotapes chronicling the saga, he dropped
the clown idea and concentrated on the legal and emotional travails
of the family once Arnold was formally accused (with reportedly
reluctant participating from David). The Friedman's troubles were
sparked by the discovery of child pornography in the possession
of paterfamilias Arnold and perhaps also by the 80s zeitgeist that
produced the McMartin pre-school molestation case and subsequent
myths like Frankenstein or Hulk that seek to demystify
and control our wild impulses of sexuality, of families, of hate
and love, the lines demarcating good and evil in this mesmerizing
film dissolve and bleed into each other absolving and damning all.
There are no winners in this murky and brutally real morality play.
Friedman family was as close to normal as any. The three sons adored
their father and only broke with their mother later over disagreements
about guilt and legal strategy. Jarnecki uses teenaged David's own
video of the family's dissolution, newscasts from the time, and
current interviews with interrogators, victims and pundits alike.
David's video diary tells us two things: the depth of his own despair
and his howling need to tell his story to someone far enough removed
from his tumultuous present to judge his family fairly.
reporter Debbie Nathan's commentary on the case runs throughout
the film. She analyzed this mass molestation case, like many others,
and came to the believable conclusion that many of the claims of
the children were false, especially the "recovered" repressed memories.
This debunking frames Jarnecki's narrative and perhaps names it,
but just when we think we have settled on a villain, Jarnecki throws
us a curve of credible evidence that leads us to doubt our prior
certainty. We are left in the end with more questions than answers,
not by cheap narrative trickery, but by the emotional truth that
permeates the film. Is there a connection between a society that
denies the subconscious and the vile "acting out" of individuals
like pedophiles? Can Reason explain, categorize and sanitize every
mystery away? Where do the lurid stories of a young child come from,
if not from some inchoate and unreachable place within each of us?
The caring but overreaching authorities appear to be as flummoxed
by these questions as we are.
is difficult to determine what is true and what is not, what is
fantasy and what is fact, in Capturing the Friedmans. I could
only deduce perhaps one true villain and one completely innocent
victim. I think I understand, though, why the teenage David Friedman
insisted on filming his disintegrating family during their most
painful moments: he hoped, like all who watch it, to someday understand
and control the forces that lie somewhere beyond understanding.
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Copyright Web del Sol, 2003