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Kino Korner December 12, 2003
Spooning With The Friedmans
By Mark Ames Browse author Email



This is just about the most fucked up movie I've seen in a long time, and I'm amazed that it's available at Gorbushka on DVD. Once in awhile Gorbushka offers up surprising indy gems -- I remember the day when it had Chopper.

Capturing The Friedmans is a documentary about a Jewish family in Long Island which on the surface is your typical semi-eccentric middle/upper-middle-class suburban Jewish family, but is in fact deeply, deeply, as I said, fucked up. The father's a brutal child molester, as is his youngest son, whom he molested in his youth (the father also molested his brother when they were boys). The amazing thing is that you get to see daddy molester, who looks like the squinty, slightly unkempt public school teacher that he is, and the like-father-like-son molester while they're home on remand during the trial. The reason is that the oldest son filmed everything with a handycam in 1988. He filmed their dinner fights, he filmed their arguments (and believe me, this is a loud, argumentative family even by Long Island Jewish house-o'-molesters standards), he filmed them as they joked and goofed around. And there is a disturbing amount of joking around between the boys and their father, considering their circumstances.

This movie is disturbing not only on the criminal/sexual level, but much more so in the way that it exposes human denial like no film before it. Denial is really the protagonist of Capturing The Friedmans. Denial is about the most gut-twisting villain in cinema history. I will give you one example. The police intercepted a child porn magazine from the Netherlands being shipped to Arnold, the father. He got busted. The police sat his wife, Elaine, down and explained to her why they had arrested her husband. The wife is a sullen, intelligent, rather cold and gloomy Jewish woman, while the three boys and their father are all goof-offs and hams, loud and annoying and full of energy.

The police showed Elaine her husband's child porn magazines, pictures of young boys getting sodomized or sucking some old man off. But as she confessed, "I looked at the magazine, I looked at the pictures, and I still didn't see what was wrong with them. I didn't see what the police were talking about, and I told them that. Even though the pictures were right there in front of my face." Turns out the entire house was stacked with kiddie porn mags, and in all their years of marriage she had never even seen them.

Denial is such a powerful and painful subject that most people deny that denial exists in their own minds or houses. The terrifying thing about denial is that most people, even you, will simply not see even the most obviously glaring, horrible things that are right in front of your face. People are constantly in denial about themselves, about their families, about their spouses or lovers...and from there, the power of denial only mushrooms to the social, cultural and political level. America, for example: that is a giant Friedmans house in massive denial about itself, yet no one is really, honestly filming it.

This movie inadvertently adds to the confusion that one begins to feel. Categories and expectations about what an evil child molesting family is like, about memory, about victimization and hysteria, start to call your entire reality into question. So it's interesting to watch how people deal with this. More denial, of course.

Take for example the utterly insane collection of reviews I called up on the net about Capturing The Friedmans. It is probably the most praised movie of the year, but for all the wrong reasons. Here is a sample:

"Ranks among the most harrowing and heartbreaking films ever made about the destruction of an American family."

-- Robert Wilonsky, DALLAS OBSERVER

Uh, no, this isn't about the destruction of an American family. These people are fucking SICK by any goddamn standard, even if they don't correspond to some ridiculous caricature of an evil child molesting family that you might have formed from tabloid TV. Heartbreaking? I associate that with the pain from loss. This is more like pouring battery acid on your heart.

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