Capturing the Friedmans

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Steward 1
Melissa Steward
Research Essay
English 367.01
Capturing the Friedmans

"Home movies are about innocence--our lost fuzzy, glowing personal pasts, all horseplay, and funny hats and the promise of youth" (Cooper, 23). Andrew Jarecki's remarkable film, Capturing the Friedmans captured just what is clearly a case study of extreme family dysfunction through such home videos. At first Andrew Jarecki just wanted to do a nice little documentary about clowns. He decided to try film making and thought he would cut his teeth on something easy like birthday party clowns. He had met David Friedman a top childrens birthday party clown from Manhattan, New York. Much to his surprise David Friedman had a much more interesting story to tell. David's father Arnold, and younger brother Jesse were both convicted of sex crimes against children who attended computer classes in their basement. After watching this spellbinding documentary by Jarecki, I was intrigued by the many cinematic and narrative techniques used in the film to effectively tell the tragic story of one family. This film not only made its audience sympathize with each member of the family at one point or another during the the course of the film, but it also made us change our viewpoint several times as well. Capturing the Friedmans had its very own voice, imagery, and film editing. The film was very entertaining, not because of the special effects implemented by the filmmaker, but due to the archival footage taken by the family itself. Jesse had documented many of his family's activities and conversations with his video camera. For example, in the beginning of the film the viewer in the beginning of the film starts to see many images of home movies being played and paused with sub text to show the main characters who are to be presented in the film. These freeze frames paint a picture of an all-American family promoting a certain sense of innocence. Following the picture perfect images Buck Owen's country western classic, "Act Naturally" plays in the background. As the beginning credits soon come to a halt we see a looming face on video: "Hi, hi, it's me...Jesse!" This introductory picture brings the viewer into the dynamics of a family and how the interpersonal relationships shaped the way such upcoming accusations can destroy an American family. It goes to show just how hard the justice system can be with pertinent information from witnesses and lack of evidence.

Nichols a writer for the Critical Inquiry, in an article written between documentary and the modernist avant-garde about a examination of the use of narrative structure, rhetorical strategies, and modernist elements. Nichols goes to say, "rhetorical strategies allowed documentary expression to achieve a distinctive voice of its own" (Nichols, 580). This concept of voice can be seen through the Friedmans themselves, and not told from the filmmaker Jarecki. One particular scene that suggests this is when they are all having dinner on the night of Passover. The brothers banded together, especially Jesse and David and ganged up on their mother asking her ‘why don't you believe dad is innocent?' The viewer can see their voice drives the documentary forward and makes us aware that there really could be a chance their father is innocent. Early on in the film, Jarecki puts on the screen part of a video diary that David Friedman recorder. This also shows how the voice of the film puts great impact to the story. "If you're not me, you shouldn't be watching this" David says to the viewer. "Turn it off." However, the footage plays on, as we see David breaking down into tears.

Capturing the Friedmans imposes another cinematic element used, imagery. As the story unfolds, we are exposed to numerous shots taken at the time of the first search of the Friedmans house by the post office officials. "Then postal inspectors, who have been suspicious...
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