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Film / Capturing the Friedmans

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"My Three Sons they were not."

"My dad was a cool guy, you know? He was a schoolteacher. And I think that the other kids liked him, and he liked kids."

Capturing the Friedmans is a 2003 HBO documentary film directed by Andrew Jarecki.

In The '80s, the Friedman family of Great Neck, Long Island — father and respected computer and music teacher Arnold, mother and housewife Elaine, and their three grown sons, David, Seth and Jesse — are seemingly your typical middle class American family. They all admit that the marriage was by no means close to being harmonious - Arnold and Elaine eventually divorced - but the sons talk of their father as being a good man. This façade of respectability masks the fact that Arnold was buying and distributing child pornography.

Following a sting operation, the police investigated Arnold for sexual abuse of underage male students of his computer classes, which he held in the basement of the family home. Based on interviews with the students, not only was Arnold charged with and ultimately convicted of multiple counts of sodomy and sexual abuse, but so was eighteen year old Jesse, who was mentioned by many as the aggressor of the two in the acts. Arnold admitted that he was a pedophile, but that he did not abuse the boys in his class as claimed. The trial process brought out the dysfunction that previously existed within the family.


But the issue of Arnold and Jesse's guilt of these acts is hotly debated among the family, the authorities, the media and Arnold's former students. Incredibly, the Friedmans took home videos before and during the entire ordeal.

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: Arnold always comes across as this perfectly nice, nebbishy Jewish father.
  • Berserk Button: David Friedman is outraged by any suggestion that his father was anything but a victim.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Even before Arnold's true nature was revealed, the Friedman family was not doing well.
  • Jerkass: David Friedman, who hates his mother deeply simply for being something of a My Beloved Smother while worshipping his father (an admitted pedophile).
  • Nice Guy: Howard Friedman is consistently rational, good-natured and sympathetic.
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  • Pedo Hunt: The entire community of Great Neck indulges in this. One person suggests that it's natural when a community becomes defined by a tragedy.

Example of: