Here's Why 'Capturing The Friedmans' Is One Of The Most Upsetting Documentaries Ever Made
The 2003 film Capturing the Friedmans is one of the most disturbing documentaries ever, and among the saddest movies of all time. The film started out as a profile about David Friedman and other children's birthday entertainers in New York City. But along the way, it morphed into an investigation into the sickening details of Arnold Friedman's supposed double life as a child molester in the 1980s.
The most upsetting scenes in Capturing the Friedmans are impossible to look away from. As troubling as many moments are in the movie, it's a must-see if you're interested in cases where there is no clear answer from the police, or the accused, or the family. What exactly happened with those unsuspecting boys behind the closed door of Arnold's computer lab? Whatever the truth, the documentary captures a real story filled with very real pain.
Arnold Friedman And His Son Were Charged With Child Molestation
In 1987, Arnold Friedman, a former school teacher in Long Island, was charged with sexually abusing 10-year-old boys who had taken computer classes in the basement of his house. Arnold admitted to being attracted to young boys, but denied molesting them. He later admitted to molesting some of them, and in the documentary his wife Elaine Friedman recalls a time when he confessed.
Arnold's son Jesse was also wrapped up in the drama, having been his computer assistant during the lessons. He was 18 years old when he was arrested.
Explicit Material Featuring Children Was Found In Arnold Friedman's Basement
While the film offers no concrete evidence that Arnold Friedman or Jesse Friedman ever molested children, the one sure fact is that Arnold perused highly explicit material in his spare time.
A postal inspector is interviewed in the documentary, and he talks about how police raided the house on Thanksgiving in 1987. They found adult material featuring children in Arnold's basement, and from the sounds of it, he had indulged this habit for a while. Arnold's wife Elaine said they had a house cleaner in the '80s, but he had restricted her from cleaning in the basement. The ex-wife never went in there, either.
The Director Originally Planned To Make A Documentary About Professional Clowns
Andrew Jarecki was interested in what inspires someone to be a professional clown, so he set about making a short documentary about some of the best performers in New York City. David Friedman was among them, performing under the stage name "Silly Billy." Unlike other clowns, he usually didn't wear any makeup, yet his showmanship was mesmerizing.
Jarecki followed David for months. Then, one day, he asked David what inspired him to become a clown. The other man immediately became uncomfortable, and after mentioning that his childhood was difficult, suggested Jarecki speak to his mother Elaine. The director did – and uncovered the truth about David's father and brother. He immediately put his plans for the clown documentary on hold and pursued this story instead.
There Was No Physical Evidence Of The Alleged Crimes
Despite the multiple charges brought against Arnold and Jesse Friedman, there were no traces of blood or semen in the basement. There weren't signs of struggle, either. All the police had to go on was the explicit material owned by Arnold, and the testimonies from children.
Were the children coerced into giving statements? Or was everything just cleaned up perfectly? It's infuriating, but nobody knows what was going on.
Jesse Friedman Pled Guilty, But Maintains His Innocence
In the documentary, viewers learn that Jesse Friedman pled guilty to multiple counts of child sex abuse and was sentenced to a long prison term. It's one of the hardest parts to watch, because the boys left at home are laughing and dancing around, trying to make the most of the free life they still have.
Jesse served 13 years, and now lives as a Level 3 sex offender. To this day, he maintains that he never abused children in those computer classes. There wasn't any physical evidence, but witnesses at the time gave graphic and contradictory accounts of being abused by Jesse. Many have since recanted their statements. That's upsetting in and of itself, because no one seems to know the truth.
The Friedmans' Lives Were Destroyed By The Allegations
In home videos filmed by David Friedman, viewers see Arnold Friedman after the shocking charges have been made against him. He doesn't really confirm or deny any wrongdoing. The family tries desperately to hold on to some sense of normalcy; Jesse talks about how they still have to pay bills and eat dinner, but life is visibly tainted.
Arnold's sons are beyond confused – especially David, who is apparently the closest to Arnold. At dinner, Arnold doesn't know what to say, so he says very little. There's nothing sadder than a family that can't communicate.