Sunday, September 11, 2011

Capturing the Freedmans: Paedophile Clowns and Computer Geeks








First-time feature filmmaker Andrew Jarecki intended to make a lighthearted documentary about children's party clowns. But after poking into the family history of one of his subjects he found he had the makings of a very different story on his hands, a story of pedophilia, child pornography and terrible accusations of sexual abuse. Jarecki discovered that clown David "Silly Billy" Friedman was the oldest son of Arnold Friedman, a well-respected Long Island schoolteacher who, along with David's younger brother, Jesse, was arrested and charged with crimes ranging from possession of kiddie porn to child molestation. Arnold came under the scrutiny of postal inspectors in 1984 when he ordered child pornography from the Netherlands; three years later, the police raided his house. In addition to Arnold's sizable stash of smut featuring underage boys, they found a list of all the kids Arnold taught at home in an after-school computer class. Suspecting the worst, Nassau County's sex-crimes unit began aggressively interviewing Arnold's students and amassing allegations of sexual abuse that also implicated Arnold's 18-year-old son, Jesse. .












The charges against Arnold and Jesse Friedman escalated rapidly, suspicion turned to hysteria and the whole horrible story spilled into the national news. Through David, Jarecki not only gained access to Jesse and Arnold's wife Elaine (Arnold died in 1995), but the family's huge collection of home movies. They captured not only the Friedman pere et fils in happier times, mugging and capering for the cameras (performance and role playing appear to be a disquieting theme in the Friedman household), but also the terrible arguments that began tearing the family apart. The footage feels like a documentation of derranged family therapy sessions.  











Monster or victim? By switching from the public trial to the private, domestic life and family history of a convicted, and now dead, paedophile, 'Capturing the Friedmans' raises profound questions about prejudice and hysteria in our society, and about the ultimate inscrutability of the human soul in a mediated age. Quietly explosive and determinedly controversial...














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