October 21, 2005

I filmed it so I didn't have to remember it myself


I was reminded of A History of Violence while watching Andrew Jarecki's ultra-disturbing documentary Capturing the Friedmans on C4's new digital service, more4, the other night.

Capturing the Friedmans is about a family from Great Neck, New York State, two of whose members (the father, Arnold, and one of the sons, Jesse, then only a teenager) pleaded guilty to serious sexual offences and were consequently jailed. Were they guilty? We can be reasonably confident only that Arnold had paedophiliac tendencies, and owned child pornography; he also confessed to having had some sort of sexual contact, short of sodomy, with two boys, but not in Great Neck. The rest is an enigma which makes Rashomon seem like an open and shut case. Jesse's role, for instance, is desperately unclear. The supposed victims claimed that Jesse had participated in, and assisted with, his father's violent abuses. But a campaigner cast doubt on the victims' testimony, none of which was corroborated by any physical evidence, and most of which seemed to have been 'recovered' after they had been hypnotized.

The gaps in the Friedman narrative are all the more glaring because of the plethora of recorded material that IS available. This was a family that seemed - like many now I suppose - to obsessively record itself. Part of the 'capturing' of the Friedmans is their capturing of themselves, on film and on tape. A documentary like this only became possible now that filming technology - cine cameras and later camcorders - had become widely available for the first time and kids are filmed from the moment of birth. The whole thing felt like a grim counterpoint to the proto-reality TV documentary of the Loud family Baudrillard discussed in 'Precession of Simulacra'. In a way, the most painful material consists of home movie footage of the Friedmans shot in the 1970s, in which they look for all the world like a perfectly happy family, the kids mugging and clowning for the cameras. Never has Deleuze's observation that 'family photos' are, by their very nature, profoundly misleading been more bitterly borne out. Later, as the trials start and the recriminations follow, the family fimed and audio-taped themselves ripping each other to shreds.

Why did they continue to film? 'How do they remember, those who do not film?' asks Chris Marker in Sans Soleil. But why would the Friedmans want to remember their journey into Hell? Who could possibly want to film this? In Lost Highway Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) claimed that he hated the thought of video-taping his own life because he 'liked to remember things in his own way'. In an uncanny complement to this, David Friedman, who recorded the events of the day Jesse was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, said that he filmed 'so I didn't have to remember it myself'. The machines remember, so we don't have to.

Posted by mark at October 21, 2005 12:05 AM | TrackBack