All afternoon I felt a sort of unsettled distress and I couldn’t quite pinpoint it–it was beyond the usual work stress, commuting stress, family stress: a disturbance in the field. And then in the shower I suddenly remembered: I went on a deep Capturing the Friedmans dive this morning and the stench of the whole thing is still clinging to my skin.
Last month I, like, everyone else with access to HBOGo, became obsessed with The Jinx. That final scene, where Robert Durst confesses into a mic he forgot about as he pees, that scene threw me over a cliff and left me for dead. It was fucking amazing. Top class TV. I believed it with my whole heart. I loved Andrew Jarecki (and I guess his partner Marc Smerling). So I decided to revisit their other powerhouse production, the aforementioned Capturing the Friedmans, the story of a family torn apart by child molestation charges.
I saw Capturing the Friedmans a long time ago. Not when it came out I don’t think but in the early days of Netflix when I would order DVDs and watch them on my laptop on my bed when I had a day off. I remember liking it but not much more. Now, since the whole thing is on YouTube, watching it was a very easy thing to do. Let me pause here. If you have like an hour and 45 minutes, you can watch too:
This time, to my complete surprise, I kinda hated this movie. For one thing, absolutely no one in it is the mildest bit likable, except for maybe a father of a kid who wasn’t molested by the Friedman father and son duo and maybe his not-molested son. Everyone else, from the family, to the unreliable witness now-grown victims, to the police officers, are just terrible and dumb. The person we hear from the most, David Friedman, the oldest son who was not jailed for child abuse, is the worst of the bunch–he treats his mother in an absolutely reprehensible, misogynistic and disgusting way, dismisses child pornography as really not that big a deal and acts like his father’s OWN ADMISSION THAT HE MOLESTED TWO BOYS is a bit overblown.
He’s a clown. Literally. That’s his job.
The other thing that made me kinda hate this movie is that before I watched it I kept reading about how Jarecki was still involved in the case and trying to clear Jesse Friedman’s name. Jesse is the youngest son, who confessed to a huge amount of sexual assault on children and went to prison for 13 years. Knowing Jarecki’s position on Jesse’s innocence bummed me out and made me question if I thought Jesse was innocent because Jarecki thought that, or if it was because he presented the evidence well and Jesse really is innocent; basically, is Capturing the Friedmans a well-crafted, trustworthy documentary about the justice system like Paradise Lost and The Central Park Five or is it a propaganda piece by a poor little rich boy with nothing else to do?
So, as one is wont to do, I investigated (Andrew Jarecki isn’t the only one who knows how to use Google)–and I found a couple distressing things.
Exhibit A: In 2013 the Nassau County District Attorney reinvestigated the case at Jesse Friedman’s insistence (he wants to get off the sex offender registry). They decided that he was still really, really guilty of the crimes he confessed to. In 2014, Jesse was still trying to clear his name, mainly with evidence from Jarecki. I don’t know if he’s guilty or not, but let’s check out…
This video, while not like number one super quality, shows clips from an interview Jesse did in the late ’80s with Geraldo Rivera, in which he gave an even more detailed confession than he did in court. It also talks about other weird, documentable things that Jarecki left off of his movie.
Here’s what I don’t get: why? Why did Jarecki pick sides? He could have made an interesting movie and actually discovered something–this story has just about every element a person needs for a titillating documentary: sex, incest, home movies–but instead he had a story he wanted to tell, The Tale of the Child Molester Witch Hunt, and so he edited his film to tell that story.
Which brings us to that neat ending of The Jinx. The arrest of Robert Durst and the shocking, chilling hot mic bathroom confession. Should we trust that Andrew Jarecki didn’t orchestrate that or edit it to fit his narrative? Already Jarecki’s timeline of events has been called into question. So why are we so quick to give him the benefit of the doubt? Because I think that Durst is probably so, so guilty, but I’ve been watching documentaries for years and here’s the difference between nonfiction and fiction: nonfiction is never tied up neatly with a bow. Just never. Never ever. Ask Sarah Koenig.
Here’s what I think. I think Andrew Jarecki made such an interesting movie about Robert Durst because he was really making a movie about himself. Robert Durst is a fabulously wealthy white guy who has gotten away with murder for probably his whole life because he, correctly, believes that he can do whatever he wants, whenever, and, less correctly, that the ends (not having a wife, not getting caught) justify the means (dead people). Andrew Jarecki is a fabulously wealthy white guy who has gotten away with the metaphorical murder of making not-that-great work and being unduly lauded for it for probably his whole life because he, correctly, believes that he can do whatever he wants, whenever, and, less correctly, that the ends (critically acclaimed “documentaries”) justify the means (feelings-based pseudo-journalism).
I don’t think Jarecki should go to jail or anything–that metaphorical murder is not a criminal offense. It’s just both disappointing and expected: a guy who is part of the power structure cuts corners and nobody cares. So the only thing I can really do is stage this humble protest:
Hey everybody, stop trusting Andrew Jarecki!