Capturing the Friedmans

User Score
7.9

Generally favorable reviews- based on 47 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 40 out of 47
  2. Negative: 6 out of 47

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User Reviews

  1. May 4, 2016
    9
    It works, works, and works. What? You expect some originality there? I know, I know, but let's not get all rowdy over a review, okay? Capturing the Friedmans is a perfect experience.
  2. Jul 11, 2014
    4
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Capturing the Friedmans: 4 out of 10: Child Molestation, family dysfunction, mass hysteria, homosexuality, and clowns: Where do I sign up.

    Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki was making a documentary on the high priced children's clown Silly Billy (David Friedman). A very angry and irrational clown that will play into every clown stereotype you will ever have (Think serial killer). Well it turns out David is the older brother and son of the two men convicted in a famous child molestation case. during the witch hunt style child molestation hysteria, of the late eighties.

    Could the Friedmans also be victims of same said hysteria? Innocent men railroaded to prison? Well it turns out no. If you're looking for a documentary on the abuse of the justice system, especially in such cases, keep looking. If you want a voyeuristic look inside a upper middle class Jewish family one southern twang away from Jerry Springer welcome home.

    Without the child molestation charges this would be a hilarious romp. Each family member from the angry clown to the screeching mother is a gift that keeps on giving. Using home footage that manages to capture moments that reality television can only dream of. Capturing the Friedmans gives you a ringside seat next to a family imploding upon itself.

    Unfortunately much of the movie concentrates on the child molestation case at hand. Trying to create suspense and play with the idea that the two men are innocent, the movie sets itself up for a fall. While some of the charges are clearly trumped up (naked group leapfrog?), the father is also clearly guilty (and pleads accordingly). The son Jesse, whose case is on shakier ground, doesn't help his own cause by pleading guilty himself and having zero defense witnesses. (I.E. none of the boys supposedly there come forward and say he didn't do these things.)

    Jarecki clearly was playing with the hand he was dealt. And while he had an incredible collection of home movies fall into his lap, his attempts at turning it into a documentary about the American judicial system fall flat. On the other hand if I were looking at spending six months filming Silly Billy the clown I would grasp for straws too.
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  3. Dec 16, 2010
    7
    close to an 8. I was surprised by this movie not expecting anything. Nicely done and it had my feelings for the persons doing the flip flop all the way through. I still want to know the "real" story but I don't feel cheated in any way. Must see movie.
  4. Aug 31, 2015
    10
    Bottom-line: Capturing the Friedmans is, simple put, an amazing documentary.

    Capturing the Friedmans is about the Friedmans; an upper-middle class Jewish family in upstate New York. One day, the police come to the home of the Friedmans and search for child pornography. The police uncover a number of magazines belonging to Arnold Friedman. A retired high school teacher, he, with the help
    Bottom-line: Capturing the Friedmans is, simple put, an amazing documentary.

    Capturing the Friedmans is about the Friedmans; an upper-middle class Jewish family in upstate New York. One day, the police come to the home of the Friedmans and search for child pornography. The police uncover a number of magazines belonging to Arnold Friedman. A retired high school teacher, he, with the help of his son Jesse, hold computer classes and piano lessons for young children. Once the police realize this, they start investigating Arnold for child abuse. Before long, he and his son are charged with around a hundred counts of sexual assault.

    I have a lot of fun watching documentaries; I can spend roughly two hours watching a movie on the grounds that I am learning something. Over time I’ve come to realize that it isn’t just what the documentary is saying but how. Sometimes documentaries are clearly biased.

    If you are a fan of documentaries, there is a website called Documentary Heaven which has lots of documentaries you can watch for free. I remember one that was about secret government cloud seeding experiments. Cloud seeding is, more or less, controlling rainfall and weather patterns. For that documentary, there was just the director, one person that was interviewed, and only about a dozen pictures that faded in and out of the frame. Towards the end of the hour and forty-five minute snoozefest, the director comes out from behind the camera and shouts to the camera, “If he has had so much success cloud seeding, why isn’t the government spending millions doing further testing!?” It detracts from the feeling that you are learning something. Instead it feels like you are spending time hearing propaganda.

    The only other documentary I’ve seen more than once was Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005) and that was because I saw it for a film class. I watched it once at home and once in the class. I don’t usually watch documentaries more than once because, well, hearing it once is usually enough. It’s like attending a lecture more than once. You don't unless you have to. I saw Capturing the Friedmans twice so far because, again, I saw it for a class. But I will, however, most certainly be seeing it again. Capturing the Friedmans is an example of amazing storytelling.

    The plot thickens at every turn. With documentaries about crimes, I read them like a detective novel. You decipher the film maker’s bias and then anticipate the details of the crime to make up your mind. In this case, whenever I solved the mystery, if you will, the movie would cut to another interview that threw me off.

    Jarecki juxtaposes interviews to create fascinating dialogues. For example, we hear from the District Attorney about the process for conducting interviews with children. He explains that the children may be frightened so one doesn't want to put words in their mouths. Instead of saying “we know he assaulted you,” one should say, “what happened next?” The movie then cuts over to one of the detectives who conducted many of the interviews for the Friedman case: “We went through the whole line of questions...’We know you were in these computer classes and we know that there was a good chance he sexually assaulted you...” the camera then fades out. It's an example of how the movie can steer us toward reaching a particular conclusion. Better still, the movie can make us realize how we could never know the truth of the Friedman case. Towards the end of the movie, Jesse and his attorney provide radically different accounts of the same event. Who can we trust?

    A major source of information comes from the Friedman’s home movies. The family shot a lot of home movies particularly around the time of the investigations. The footage provides a great balance to the interviews. Some shots from their ordinary cameras are eerily good too which add to the experience. At one point, Arnold is playing the piano and his son moves in for a close up. We listen to upbeat music (though it is made darker given the circumstance) and watch his glasses which reflect his hands on the piano keys.

    I highly recommend you see Capturing the Friedmans. The subject matter is solidly depressing but it is a really well done documentary.
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  5. GunnarW.
    Jun 10, 2003
    10
    Excellent documentary, what a job by the production company.
  6. ChadS.
    Jul 27, 2003
    10
    Anti-heroes don't come any bigger than a pedophile. "Capturing the Friedmans" might have you siding with an admitted child molester. It's all very confusing. Like the American public favoring reality T.V. over scripted drama, why bother with the dysfunctional Icelanders from "The Sea" when you can observe the real thing? To me, "Capturing the Friedmans" demonstrates how close Anti-heroes don't come any bigger than a pedophile. "Capturing the Friedmans" might have you siding with an admitted child molester. It's all very confusing. Like the American public favoring reality T.V. over scripted drama, why bother with the dysfunctional Icelanders from "The Sea" when you can observe the real thing? To me, "Capturing the Friedmans" demonstrates how close those Dogma films sometimes approach reality. "The Celebration", anybody? As The Friedmans scream at each other, the grandmother is hidden by one of the sons. When the confrontation is over, she materializes from behind her grandson and we see her walking dejectedly out of the room. Some people in the audience laughed because it looked very much like a black comedy. At other times, the laughter was born out of disbelief at the turns this incredible saga took. Here is the rare documentary that feels like a work of art. Collapse
  7. DavidM.
    Mar 30, 2005
    10
    Absolutly brilliant, gutted that I missed it originally. The best film I have seen in a long time!
  8. ClaireM.
    Jun 12, 2003
    9
    Very smartly paced and put together... there are a few big twists that you might not see coming at first. The Friedmans are fascinating, disturbing, bizarre... but never boring. Excellent, just don't take your grandmother to this one.
  9. XiongC.
    Jun 16, 2003
    9
    Not quite as bizzare as "Crumb", but certainly out there. Keeps a few surprises until near the end, instead of blasting you with them all at once. Really delivers.
  10. S.Rogers
    Jul 7, 2004
    10
    Elaine Friedman is, without a doubt, the greatest screen mother of all time. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for her...she is an inspiring, beautiful person who does what she believes in.
  11. SandieE
    Aug 29, 2005
    10
    Cannot stop thinking about it.
  12. WilliamM.
    Jun 12, 2003
    10
    A brilliant documentary that focuses much more on the complexities of this unique family rather than the crime drama. What a strange and fascinating group. An excellent directing job.
  13. MarileeB.
    Jul 16, 2003
    10
    I drug my husband to this film agaiinst his will, but he profusely thanked me for forcing him to watch. We talked about it for hours...who was truthful, who not, why would a family allow all this dirty laundry to be filmed, was anyone innocent? was anyone guilty as charged? what is memory, were the lawyers being ethical in talking, why did the witnesses exaggerate.... on and on into the I drug my husband to this film agaiinst his will, but he profusely thanked me for forcing him to watch. We talked about it for hours...who was truthful, who not, why would a family allow all this dirty laundry to be filmed, was anyone innocent? was anyone guilty as charged? what is memory, were the lawyers being ethical in talking, why did the witnesses exaggerate.... on and on into the evening. 4 days later I'm still thinking about Capturing the Friedmans. Expand
  14. KristenT.
    Jan 30, 2004
    0
    "... when traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim & perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear "... when traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim & perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering." --from "Trauma and Recovery" by Judith Herman, MD Expand
  15. GregS.
    Feb 18, 2004
    10
    Brilliant documentary on par with Errol Morris's best.
  16. TonyR.
    Feb 2, 2004
    10
    This documentary is completely different from any other. One suspects it may be similar to other cases in which claims of sexual abuse to children that seemed so certain turned out to be false. But it is not. This film documents a family torn apart by accussations that we will never know for certain are true and, although there is ample suggestion they are false, dispositive evidence of This documentary is completely different from any other. One suspects it may be similar to other cases in which claims of sexual abuse to children that seemed so certain turned out to be false. But it is not. This film documents a family torn apart by accussations that we will never know for certain are true and, although there is ample suggestion they are false, dispositive evidence of their falsity is not available. This plays like the anti-Hollywood film with its characters that sponsors would be afraid to bring to the screen and an ambiguous answer to the question of what is true. Expand
  17. MarcK.
    Aug 6, 2004
    10
    WOW! I wish I had seen this in the movies when it originally came out, rather than on Starz. Absolutely amazing...one of the very best documentaries I have ever seen. I definitely would like to read more about this. And I thought I knew families that were dysfunctional!
  18. Anna
    Mar 11, 2007
    10
    A brilliant and challenging documentary. stunning in every sense of the word. jarecki will challenge every notion you have held about sex offenders.
  19. NB
    Nov 18, 2003
    3
    The truth about this movie is at : http://members.aol.com/friedmansmovie/ "CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS" Documentary or Whitewash? Have you seen Andrew Jarecki's award-winning film? Did it leave you with the impression that Jesse Friedman and maybe his father, Arnold, were victims of a witch hunt conducted by an inept and overzealous investigation team? That conclusion is no accident. The truth about this movie is at : http://members.aol.com/friedmansmovie/ "CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS" Documentary or Whitewash? Have you seen Andrew Jarecki's award-winning film? Did it leave you with the impression that Jesse Friedman and maybe his father, Arnold, were victims of a witch hunt conducted by an inept and overzealous investigation team? That conclusion is no accident. Jarecki omitted incriminating evidence that might have made you think differently about Jesse and Arnold. Consider this information, and decide for yourself if this well-reviewed "documentary" can be trusted. 1. What Arnold and Jesse admitted under oath: The film shows--but minimizes the fact- - that Arnold and Jesse admitted to molesting 13 boys, ages 7-11. Arnold pled to 8 counts of sodomy, 28 counts of first-degree sexual abuse, and also admitted to ramming a child's head into a wall in front of other children. Jesse pled to 17 counts of sodomy, 4 counts of first degree sexual abuse. 2. Arnold had an established history as a child molester: The film acknowledges that Arnold was an admitted pedophile. He admitted to abusing his own brother when the brother was 8. Although initially admitting to abusing only one boy, Arnold admitted in a therapy session with Elaine to abusing (though not sodomizing) two boys, one of whom was the child of his good friend. He went to therapy out of fear that he would molest his own children. 3. Was no evidence found in the house beyond one stack of porn? (1) Although Jarecki shows the house looking porn free and a voice-over says porn was only found in the office, the prosecutor says in the movie that child pornography was found all over the house. (2) In 1986, Arnold Friedman mail-ordered "Boy Love," a magazine featuring graphic pictures of men having sex with children, which led to a sting operation. Jarecki doesn't say that other child- porn magazines were found on classroom shelves; the boys said Arnold used them to initiate discussions of sex. (3) Jarecki fails to mention that parents were not allowed into the classroom or that nine obscene computer games were found in Friedman"s classroom such as "Dirty Movie" ("animation of woman who undresses, spreads her legs and then masturbates/ urinates"), and "Seasons Greeting" ("animation of Mickey Mouse, dressed in a Santa suit, appears with erection and ejaculates"). An early newspaper report said "Talking Sam", in which a male figure exposes his genitals, was used to demonstrate and initiate touching games with the boys. Boys were allowed to take these computer disks to their homes, where a few were found by police. (4) Numerous children, ages 7-12, disclosed similar details about sexual "games" such as leap-frog and Simon says. (5) Jarecki didn't mention that child-sized dildos were found in a cabinet just outside the classroom. 4. What about the witness who was left out of the film? Jesse's friend, Ross Goldstein, witnessed and admitted to participating in the crimes, could identify the victims, and would have testified in court. He pled guilty to 3 counts of first-degree sodomy. Both he and Jesse pled to one count of using a child in a sexual performance (pornography). 5. Why didn't the boys tell anyone? Children "tell" about abuse indirectly. In 1989 some wet their beds, took baseball bats to bed, could not sleep. The children reported Arnold threatened to burn down their houses, kill parents, if they told. 6. Why was there no physical evidence? Jarecki fails to mention that the Friedmans pled guilty so none was sought. Physical evidence is typically rare in such cases. Many assume that child sexual abuse must leave gaping tears and telltale scars, but due to the nature of children's bodies, even when there are physical signs, most disappear in a few days. 7. Can Jesse's retraction of his father's abuse of him be believed? Jesse said in a 1989 interview that he was "halfway between loving and hating" his father. He said Arnold fondled and later sodomized him. Jesse started seeing a psychiatrist at the age of 10; he was diagnosed manic depressive. He started using drugs at 16 and was soon stoned on a daily basis; his weight ballooned; he had no friends. Court psychiatric testimony described Jesse's joy when his father turned from Jesse to children in the class. When interviewed on the Geraldo Rivera Show, Jesse sobbed while describing sexual abuse by his father and confessed to abusing three children. He said, "I fondled [the children]...I was forced to, to pose in hundreds of photos for my father in all sorts of sexual positions with the kids..." He now claims that his story and his tears were "fictionalized to win leniency". However, he had already been sentenced. So which is the truth -- his admission or his recent retraction? 8. What else do we know about the Friedmans? They often appear confused. Sometimes they remember that "it" happened, sometimes not. Arnold's brother and David hit their heads, saying maybe someday they'll remember something, but they don't, now. Jesse describes them as sweeping things under the rug. When Elaine saw one of Arnold's child porn magazines she didn't register what it was until she looked again. The film shows her being mistreated by her sons for questioning Arnold's innocence. Victoria News describes "one astonishing sequence [of the film], on the morning of one of the sons' sentencing, the boys decide to shoot footage while harassing the parents of some of the alleged victims." 9. What else do we know about Arnold? As a child, Arnold witnessed his mother having sex with various men. Elaine, in a 1989 article, said that her normally emotionless husband was almost in tears when police took his child porn photos. Arnold's motion from prison to have them returned (as well as the names and numbers of numerous victims) was denied. In the film, Jesse's attorney describes Arnold in a prison visit asking to move to another table because he is excited by a 4 or 5 year old boy bouncing on his father's lap nearby. ____________________________ 1. Bessent, A.E. (1989, May 28). The secret life of Arnold Friedman. Newsday. LI., NY http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/ny-friedman052889,0,1128093.story?coll=ny-li-span-headlines Posted also among many other useful articles at http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/arnoldandjessefriedman 2. Vitello, P., Commentary: Interesting, not accurate. (2003, July 27) Newsday, LI . NY http://www.newsday.com/news/printedition/ny-livit273389114jul27,0,4000086.column?coll=ny-news-print Expand
  20. JohnY.
    Jul 22, 2003
    10
    You couldn't ask for a more perfect documentary. Haunting, yet always captivating.
  21. Smenkharon
    Jan 28, 2004
    1
    This movie is incredibly overrated! The director did an awful job, bringing absolutely nothing new or interesting to the documentary format. On top of that the facts in this movie are completely blurred so that gullible audiences would think they were watching something worthwhile. There was no good reason to make a movie about two confessed pedophiles. They both confessed, period! The This movie is incredibly overrated! The director did an awful job, bringing absolutely nothing new or interesting to the documentary format. On top of that the facts in this movie are completely blurred so that gullible audiences would think they were watching something worthwhile. There was no good reason to make a movie about two confessed pedophiles. They both confessed, period! The director should be ashamed of himself for making this and the people who liked it should watch A+E to see how to make a focused, unbiased portrait of criminals like these. The subjects of this documentary are sick people and the director/producer is sick as well for giving these two the attention they crave. See the comments by N B as well. Expand
  22. GregT.
    Feb 23, 2004
    8
    A very disturbing but interesting documentary of a family's downfall due to the sexual transgressions of a father and of his son. The family dynamic of the father and of all three sons pushing towards a denial of these crimes is puzzling. The only real person in this documentary is the mother, Elaine, who maintains that she does not know what her husband and her son did sexually, but A very disturbing but interesting documentary of a family's downfall due to the sexual transgressions of a father and of his son. The family dynamic of the father and of all three sons pushing towards a denial of these crimes is puzzling. The only real person in this documentary is the mother, Elaine, who maintains that she does not know what her husband and her son did sexually, but that they hurt and betrayed her and wrecked her life. And indeed they did or at least they tried to. Well worth seeing, if only for a glimpse into some of the bedrooms of modern suburbia. Expand
  23. J.RyanG.
    May 27, 2005
    8
    The story behind the making of this documentary is almost as interesting as the film itself. But it's a rather interesting story. Apparently, the director, Andrew Jarecki, had set out to make an entirely different film, only to find out about the sordid past of this eccentric family. I suppose that's how art is born. Crafting that art is another story. I don't know if The story behind the making of this documentary is almost as interesting as the film itself. But it's a rather interesting story. Apparently, the director, Andrew Jarecki, had set out to make an entirely different film, only to find out about the sordid past of this eccentric family. I suppose that's how art is born. Crafting that art is another story. I don't know if Jarecki completely succeeds, as the film is not as intense or memorable as I'd hoped. But after seeing it for the first time, my filmgoing companions and I discussed the film for about three hours. There you have it: It's good for a great debate, but it won't necessarily stay with you for more than a week or so. Expand
  24. RichardH.
    Dec 6, 2008
    10
    flows over many provocative questions not the least of which is "what's more important: pursuing and convicting the most evil of criminals or pursuing and maintaining justice?"
  25. Feb 19, 2011
    2
    I felt that the directer had a clear agenda. After looking into the case - he left out numerous important facts that would have made the world of difference. He apparantly only interviewed a small number of victims and left out and/or minimized facts that would have contradicted an apparant agenda. If it was done on purpose or because of lack of research - shame on him

Awards & Rankings

Metascore
90

Universal acclaim - based on 39 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 38 out of 39
  2. Negative: 0 out of 39
  1. Isn't like the classic Japanese drama "Rashomon," which suggested that one person's perspective of an event gave him a different truth from the person standing elsewhere.
  2. 80
    Andrew Jarecki could have done more to lay out the marriage of sexual and religious and social hysteria that made cases like this possible. But he deserves credit for having the guts to say, in this case and in so many like it, who suffered the most.
  3. Reviewed by: Scott Foundas
    90
    There's a kind of rawness on the screen that most movies never approach.