The Burden of Sensation and the Ethics of Form: Watching "Capturing the Friedmans"

Bell, Vikki. 2008. The Burden of Sensation and the Ethics of Form: Watching "Capturing the Friedmans". Theory, Culture and Society, 25(3), pp. 89-101. [Article]

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While many films over the past decade have turned on the issue of memory (Mulholland Drive, Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and others have combined that with a focus on child sexual abuse (notably Mysterious Skin, 2005), Capturing the Friedmans (dir. Jarecki, released 2003, DVD distribution 2004) is remarkable for its combination of both within a documentary film that also places the two themes historically, becoming in effect a reflection upon its own conditions of possibility. That is, despite its focus on one family’s story, it simultaneously documents a broader development of filmic technologies in the domestic sphere, the ‘prosthetics of memory’ that have now become familiar (Landsberg, 1995; Lury, 1998), as well as the recent history of the sexual politics of looking, or sexualized looking, with which those technologies have become more and more entwined. Here, the family’s own domestic film-making is intercut not only with interviews carried out by the makers of the documentary, but also with media coverage of the case brought against the father and youngest son on charges of abusing children in their care, the first such case to be televised. Although others have noted similar points in relation to the film Capturing the Friedmans, few have extended their considerations to include the implications for the viewing of the film. Clearly, the questions raised in terms of memory and the politics of vision lend themselves to a rumination on the experience of film-watching itself, but equally, on the nature of judgment.

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23 Apr 2010 07:24

Last Modified:

04 Jul 2017 14:14

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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