Sunday, October 07, 2007

Capturing the Friedmans

The verdict: Absorbing, devastating real-life story which challenges the viewer to decide who is telling the truth.

The rating: 8/10

Capturing the Friedmans tackles some particularly difficult source material. Arnold Friedman was a school teacher accused of molestation, and this documentary recounts his story and that of his family, as told from the perspective of his wife, kids, brother, the police involved in the investigation and some of the kids he taught.

What makes this movie of particular interest however, is the large amounts genuine home movie footage shot by Friedman's three sons over the course of this ordeal. As their family unravels, they record the chaotic events inside the Friedman house, while the media reports chart events outside, making this a 'reality' story imbued with real emotional turmoil and genuine surreality. All of this footage is supplemented by accounts from the people at the centre of the storm.

The media and police would profer the simple explanation that Friedman plead guilty and was convicted of these crimes, and therefore was a despicable monster, undeserving of any further attention from anyone. The real story, however, is far more nuanced. The Friedmans were a seemingly wealthy middle-class Jewish family. Arnold was a popular teacher, with a successful career and three kids, with whom he had a close relationship, as the Friedman home video footage shows.

However, things start to unravel when Arnold Friedman receives a magazine in the post from the Netherlands, featuring pornographic images of underage boys. The house is searched, and more such magazines are found. As the police investigation continues, whispers of 'inappropriate touching' become fully-fledged abuse allegations, and suddenly the community of Great Neck is in full paedophile alert. To make matters worse for the Friedman family, Arnold's son Jesse is also implicated in the allegations.

This movie uses the accounts of the people involved in this trial, and the Friedman's home video footage, to re-examine the case with the benefit of perspective. As Friedman's past is recounted, and his brother and wife are interviewed, we learn more about the character of the man, and the details of his certainly unconventional upbringing, and early sexual history. As his sons are interviewed, we learn more about the strong family bond that existed between father and sons, but certainly not between mother and the rest of the family.

It is a harrowing movie, revealing detail after detail of the events surrounding the trial in such a way as to challenge the audience's perception of what actually happened. Friedman sr's guilt is not really on trial, but the method of his incarceration is certainly evaluated with a cold eye. As to Friedman jr, the details surrounding his arrest and trial are particularly harrowing, including the bizarre home video footage of the night before his sentencing.

'Capturing the Friedmans' is hard-hitting, intelligent and difficult, as it forces the audience to view the facts surrounding an intensely emotional issue with a cold logical eye. As the movie progressed, I found myself questioning who I sympathised with, as well as questioning who was telling the truth, and how much truth they were really revealing.

This is fascinating stuff, and heartily recommended.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Nine Songs

The verdict: Sex, drugs and rock and roll... but it's stultifyingly boring.

The rating: 3/10

I haven't seen many of Michael Winterbottom's movies, bar the two featuring Steve Coogan ('Tristram Shandy' and '24 Hour Party People'), but he is certainly eclectic, and something of an enigma. Considering I enjoyed both movies just mentioned, and given that his new one ('A Mighty Heart') is getting great press, I thought it only fair to take a look at what many reckon to be his worst movie: 'Nine Songs'. (I only watched it for the articles though.)

Nine Songs features a number of popular rock bands playing live, as Winterbottom was granted permission to commit shows from groups such as Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals to celluloid. The plot of the movie (for what it is) centres around the rather dull Matt (incongruously, Kieran O'Brien from the 'Goal' movies!) and the fairly annoying Lisa (Margot Stilley) as they attend some concerts, and have sex afterwards.

Now, this was a controversial movie on it's release, because it features nookie, and lots of it. Yes siree, the two stars of this one certainly got to know each others ins and outs. Ahem. Uglies are bumped pretty much every five minutes in this one, and we see all the bits and pieces normal mainstream movies leave out. Put it this way, if it was an ad for shower gel, we'd see the nipple. In this case, Winterbottom shows us everything you'd expect from a porn movie, although - and this may sound facetious, but it's true - Nine Songs is relatively lacking in character development and believable dialogue. The two main characters begin shagging in this one after just a couple of lines of narrated dialogue, which is pretty impressive, even by porn standards, and at the end of the movie, we hardly know them any better.

This movie gets old pretty fast. The sex scenes become dull and invasive very early on, as we learn little or nothing about this monster with two backs that's huffing and puffing on the screen in front of us. The story is wafer thin, and appears to have been cobbled together with a voiceover and some creative editing. The two main characters are as anonymous at the end of the movie as they were in the beginning, and the ending of the movie is perfunctory and unemotional.

Winterbottom filmed this in the Paul Greengrass 'shaky hand-held' style, but where Greengrass creates immediacy and brings the audience closer to the events on-screen, in nine songs, Winterbottom creates an amateurish, home-movie feel, which makes thing all the more uncomfortable and stifling to watch. Even the concert footage is emotionless and distant, failing to capture any of the excitement of being at any of the gigs featured. I can't imagine the Super Furries or Elbow were too happy with this finished movie after lending their music to it.

An unmitigated failure in my book, the only plus point being the sixty six minute running time. Only that I was watching it at home, I would have walked out. God bless Michael Winterbottom for coming back from this to make 'A Mighty Heart', and this tosh still won't prevent me from seeing that one. But take it from me folks, 'Nine Songs' is rubbish, and more of a cock and bull story than Tristram Shandy. Avoid.

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