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September 6, 2004

Capturing Links

I've nearly completed my Fight Club essay and have decided to start thinking about my SAMLA paper (second entry) on Capturing the Friedmans (IMDB). I'm hoping that creating an overlap between these projects will ease the turbulence I typically feel when moving from one project to another. I'm also aware that the MLA job list will be coming out soon, so I'd like to get some momentum going on the paper before I start worrying too much about the job list.

At any rate, my Capturing paper focuses primarily on the film's extensive use of home movies, the archives of Super-8 film and videotape collected by the family. Many of the reviewers have noted the connections between the Friedman family and reality TV (Cynthia Fuchs of Pop Matters also mentions the now defunct Jennicam), and what I've found interesting here is the implicit connection many of these reviewers make between the "juridical" aspects of the film, the questions of Arnold and Jesse Friedman's guilt, and the use of family footage, that is the "truth" of documentary footage. In fact, unlike Roger Ebert, I find the film is pretty clear in its assertion that Jesse and Arnold Friedman are not guilty of the crimes for which they were charged (Arnold's collection of illegal viewing material is another matter).

However, I'm less interested in the film's treatment of innocence and guilt (even though I originally pitched the idea of reading the film as a "trial documentary") than I am interested in Capturing's fascination with self-documentation--the "reality TV" aspect of the film. It's worth noting that much of the family's footage was captured in the 1970s and '80s, soon after the Loud family became one of the first families to have their lives broadcast before a national audience, something I think that Elvis Mitchell hints at in his New York Times review (without mentioning the Loud family or their PBS series by name). I'm just starting to think specifically about this paper, so these ideas are a bit scattered. In fact, I'd originally just planned to bullet point a few links.

One or two other quick points for now: David Denby's New Yorker review, reprinted in its entirety inside the cover of the Capturing DVD, looks particularly useful for thinking about this paper, and Debbie Nathan's Village Voice article supplements the film reviews nicely. Nathan is a journalist who has written extensively on the case, and notes among other things, that David and Jesse were orginally very suspicious of director Andrew Jarecki's questions. Specifically they were concerned about Jarecki's "repeated questions about whether Arnold molested his sons." She also provides a bit of detail about Jesse's thirteen difficult years in prison, something the film doesn't really discuss in much detail.

Again, I'm still in the early stages of planning this paper. Hopefully I'll have more to say in the next few weeks.

Posted by chuck at September 6, 2004 11:16 PM

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I think there is something to the reality tv argument, I think that is only applicable from the audience point of view. In other words, the film was as popular as it was, partially, because of the reality tv craze. But I don't think that the same argument holds for the Friedman's themselves.

It is obvious that Arnold Friedman was a technophile, and for him to be as interested in capturing so much of his family's life on film, It was for he and his family only. Now, after the arrests and the spotlight had been turned on him, it becomes interesting. I think, however, that the prodigious use of the home video camera was a method for David to disconnect. He is almost always the one filming. I don't think it was his intention for it to be used later and to be shown to an audience, but the reasons are probably more psychological.

But it is merely my opinion.

Posted by: Dylan at September 7, 2004 12:56 PM

From what I've observed, I think you're clearly right that the home videos were intended only for private consumption. I'd imagine that thousands of families now have similar stockpiles of recorded footage. Of course the decision to film the fights, David's video diary, etc, go beyond what is normally filmed, but I'd agree that there was no intention for that stuff to be shown in a documentary film seen by thousands of people.

There is something intriguing, though, in the dynamic that grows out of the videotaping and filming. For the most part, the mother comes across as an unwilling participant while the male Friedmans all appear comfortable in front of the camera. Interesting connection regarding David being the person "behind" the camera, the role it might have served in distancing himself from what is happeneing (of course he's the one who purchases the video camera in the first place).

Mostly thinking out loud here, but thanks for the reminder that their original intentions for the material might be much different than the effects of that footage in the film itself.

Posted by: chuck at September 7, 2004 1:23 PM

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