Capturing the Friedmans

HBO Video, $29.95

THE NO. 1 FILM on my 2003 10-best list arrives as a two-disc set (Jan. 27) that not only includes much fascinating new footage, but also offers some live theater: Showing his documentary about a Long Island family caught up in an '80s child-sexual-abuse witch hunt, director Andrew Jarecki looks on at the TriBeCa Film Festival as various Friedman family prosecutors and defenders rise during the Q&A to further debate the case. Emotions are still high some 15 years after the trial, and these unscripted pleas and recriminations are compelling in a Rashomon-meets-Jerry Springer kind of way. (Later, the cameras are again rolling for another volatile face-off at a Great Neck screening.)

During these exchanges, and on the commentary he shares with the film's editor/co-producer, Jarecki tries to remain neutral about a clan for which he clearly has real affection. ("The family is entertaining," he told me at SIFF last year.) But as all the new DVD ancillary material on the Friedmans and their doubters accrues, Jarecki's position is the same: Obviously, something bad happened, a miscarriage of justice occurred, yet nobody's memory of the matter is clear or reliable. Neither the family nor the cops nor the alleged victims can be fully trustednot because they're lying, but because they're human and their memories are so mutable. (Watching a tape of herself, ditsy-but-lovable mother Elaine exclaims, "I never said that!") As journalist Debbie Nathan observes, Capturing is "a movie about memory."

We also finally see the 20-minute profile of children's birthday party clown David Friedman that led Jarecki to this project. Sadly, our Tim Appelo reports from Sundance, David's red-nosed career basically ended owing to the filmnow he coaches other clowns. In a Charlie Rose Show segment, Jarecki calls the affair "a classical tragedy" in which the sins of the pedophile father, Arnold, destroyed his family. Yet there are follow-ups and postscripts suggesting that Elaine and youngest son Jesse, who was coerced into a plea bargain and 13 years' jail time, have now gained some measure of happiness. They deserve it.

ALSO OUT ON Jan. 27, Terry Gilliam adds a commentary to a two-disc set of Time Bandits. The young stars add to the chat track of Thirteen, while the Merchant-Ivory team couldn't be bothered for Le Divorce. There's a 10th-anniversary reissue of the AIDS doc Absolutely Positive, and Cuba Gooding Jr. continues his career decline in Radio.

Brian Miller

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