“Well, there’s some things I don’t want to talk about.”
A measure of a good film is how long it stays with you once the credits roll. This fascinating, troubling and engaging documentary asks more questions than it answers.
Jarecki apparently set out to make a low-key documentary about childrens’ entertainers, and followed party clown David Friedman as he went about his work. A chance question revealed that his family had an interesting story to tell, even he didn’t particularly want it to be told. In the early 1980s, a sting operation intercepted a package of child pornography destined for David’s father, Arnold, a respected computer-studies teacher. The subsequent investigation resulted in the public arrest of Arnold and his youngest son, Jesse, on multiple accounts of child abuse against his students. The revelation tore the apparently happy middle class home apart. Footage from the family’s home movies are used to excellent effect, Arnold’s Super-8s films and David’s camcorder, give the film an immediacy so that it appears that the Friedman’s are disintegrating before the audience’s eyes.
Both Arnold and Jesse were given lengthy prison sentences for the crimes. Yet the conviction seem unsafe.
On the face of it, the evidence is damning, but subtle doubts are cast by the film maker. The testimony given by children from the computer club seems motivated by a ‘Top Trumps’ witch-hunt mentality where the descriptions of what went on at the club become more depraved and more unlikely as each child appears to out do each other. Some members of the club claim to have never seen anything happen during the meetings, yet their evidence is ignored by the police. An investigative journalist suggests that there was no physical evidence to support the claims of the children (in their 30s at the time of the making of the film).
The film offers no conclusions. Life is complicated. Family relationships are complicated. Society’s approach to child sexuality is even more complicated. This film is a fascinating refection on the areas of life that we choose to ignore.