June 21, 2003

Capturing the Friedmans, dir. Andrew Jarecki, 2003

There's a scene in Capturing the Friedmans where one of the sons suggests that the home videos and photographs his family constantly took were often substitutes for having to commit the more painful times to memory, that much of the fighting and agonizing they caught on tape had indeed been blocked out so they could cope, maybe try to live their (admittedly abnormal) lives without falling apart.

Me, you know, I love photography, although (a) I don't do it enough, (b) I've never been into photographing people, (b1) not even my friends and family, and frankly, looking at photographs of OTHER PEOPLE'S friends/family quite often bores me to tears, (c) my parents themselves never took many pictures and never owned a video camera, so past a certain stage in my development (after I stopped being cute) the folks didn't really even bother with Kodak moments. And I've wondered whether my acute powers of perception, my ability to fill in small, peripheral details from memory with great accuracy, has anything to do with my immediate family's lifelong indifference to documenting its own existence, and in turn, I wonder whether that indifference has influenced some of the alienation I've felt as a fairly self-sufficient thoughts-and-words person eavesdropping on a predominantly visual culture's cris du coeur of "SEE?! WE'RE A REAL FAMILY! WE HAVE BARBECUES AND GO ON EXPENSIVE VACATIONS AND OUR KIDS WIN AWARDS!" or "SEE?! I'M NOT A LOSER! I HAVE FRIENDS! HERE'S THE PROOF!" Memory (and testimony) can't be trusted; stories are full of half-truths, white lies, inconsistencies, misremembrances; sometimes the story you get is contingent upon how the story gets gotten. Hard evidence is all there is, and that's sort of a drag because this reliance we have on always needing to be shown encourages people to look outside their brains for the answers.

The Friedmans were from Great Neck, Long Island, an area that's collectively very keen on impressing the Joneses, and even the fact of owning a fancy camera betrays an awareness that buying such an item is The Thing To Do. The obvious irony is seen in light of the Friedmans' utter lack of introspection and self-examination -- it's second nature to have the videotape rolling ALL THE TIME ("reality" is a peculiarly American fetish, and a disturbingly common one), and the "family" (a fetishized concept in itself) is captured in its least beatific moments because no one ever gets the idea to turn the camera off until the family unit unravels. And then they go and have a feature film made about them.