Capturing the Friedmans

Capturing the Friedmans

Home movies are about innocence-our lost, fuzzy, glowing personal pasts, all horseplay and funny hats and the promise of youth. The flickering family images bring us back to when things were simpler: the prelapsarian blisses of childhood on the one hand and young married parenthood on the other. Now here comes Andrew Jarecki’s astounding film, Capturing the Friedmans, to turn this mythic property of home movies on its head, painting innocence with layers of culpability. In the process it makes the most acidly ironic use of family movies since Delmore Schwartz’s “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” the 1937 short story in which a narrator’s fantasized movie of his unhappy parents’ long-ago courtship engenders the hopeless, self-annihilating wish that they had never met. Do you think a family never wished that? Meet the Friedmans of Great Neck, Long Island.

The story behind Capturing the Friedmansýbeggars the imagination. Several years ago Andrew Jarecki, multimillionaire inventor of Moviefone-cum-neophyte filmmaker, set out to make a short documentary about a forty-two-year-old man, David Friedman, the number-one children’s birthday clown in Manhattan. This was supposed to be a charming, quirky little personality profile. Friedman, it turned out, had a whole nother tale to tell. It concerned a notorious 1980s sexual-abuse case in the upscale New York suburb where David Friedman’s father, Arnold, a milquetoast...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.