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three pairs of lovers with space

SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS: MINORITY REPORTS

 

This is the thirty-fourth chapter of Special Friendships, Steven Freeman's unpublished book about the depiction of close friendships between men and boys in film, which is introduced here.

 

Minority reports

The one title on “abuse” which is conspicuous by its absence from the film guides, websites and TV schedules is a film called “ABUSE” (82) by Arthur Bresson Jr.  Very much in the rough-and-ready style of “MONTREAL MAIN”, it concerned a film-maker gathering material for a documentary on child-battering who meets a 14-year old (Raphael Sbarge) recently admitted to hospital with suspicious injuries.  The director befriends the boy, who self-identifies as gay, and their friendship slowly matures into a sexual one.  This process is intercut with (re-enacted) scenes of authentic “abuse” – primarily at the hands of parents – from the documentary the man is making.  Bresson’s message was loud and clear, but it was also an unwelcome message, even way back in 1982, and would be anathema today.  By attempting to distinguish adolescent homosexuality and pederasty from brutality to children, it broke one of the strictest canons of current received wisdom, and even sailed perilously close to criminal prosecution.  Such arguments are not to be made in public. The new church of the Politically Correct has inquisitors and witchfinders of its own, and they work with the full endorsement of the state.

Which brings us neatly to “CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS” (2003), something of an anomaly amid the recent crescendo. It is a documentary consisting very largely of home video footage about a family falling apart when the father and youngest son are prosecuted on a string of lurid allegations of unbridled sex orgies during evening computer classes with local boys.  Both father and son maintain their innocence on all counts, yet both ultimately plead guilty in a state of total despair, hopeful of a more lenient sentence. The film interviews several pupils from those computer classes, whose testimony flatly contradicts one another, along with arresting officers, lawyers, the presiding judge and head of the local “sex crimes unit”.  Where it differs from similar documentaries is in the video diary intimacy of the domestic footage, showing the Friedman family disintegrating in a stew of recriminations, fierce loyalties, claim and counter-claim. Both father and son received heavy prison sentences, despite the absence of any collateral or forensic evidence to support the allegations. The father had been caught in a police entrapment sting when magazines from Holland were intercepted in the mail, and police subsequently trawled the pupils from his computer classes convinced that sexual activity must have taken place, bringing considerable pressure on at least some of the boys to lay allegations.  Although at no time did Friedman deny his sexual interest in boys, he insisted the allegations were spurious and false, but the seizure of those magazines was sufficient in itself to convict Friedman on all other charges.  A few years later he took his own life in prison.

The Friedman family: father Arnold Friedman and mother Elaine, with their three boys, from left to right, Jesse, David and Seth at David’s bar mitzvah

What is exceptional about “CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS” is its neutrality, its abstention from judgment or condemnation.  Viewers are left to conclude for themselves whether these allegations were true or invented, whether justice was served or abused. It draws attention without comment to some of the ugly corollaries of the trial, such as a spirit of perverse one-upmanship between the parents of the alleged victims, trying to trump one another over how many times their sons were anally raped, or attacking the parents of boys who insisted nothing had happened for “colluding in denial”. America has watched this film, but it preferred to keep taking the tabloids, to wallow on in its culture of Victimhood.  The UK, Canada, Australia all have seen the film, shrugged it off as “wrong-headed”, and settled back to their staple diet of parental paranoia.  When a film is so at odds with prevailing neuroses it does not prompt even intelligent viewers to think again, because the social engineering process we began this study by discussing is so insidious and relentless.  There will always be another sex scandal, or missing child, or internet pornography swoop, a few weeks down the line to confirm our worst suspicions.

No film embodies this brainsickness in contemporary culture better than Mark Romanek’s eloquently vile “ONE HOUR PHOTO” (2002).  Robin Williams plays a lonely ageing supermarket employee in an on-site developing lab.  He is effusively polite and friendly to all his customers, but especially to the family of nine-year old Jake (Dylan Smith), and this solicitousness immediately causes agitation to the boy’s parents.  We then see Williams’ home, one entire wall of which is coated with photo’s of Jake from birth, and we know we’re in “FATAL ATTRACTION” territory again.  The lonely social misfit is no longer to be pitied, but is a potential and actual psychopath on the loose.  When Williams discovers the boy’s father is involved in carnal indiscretions with a co-worker, he pursues them like an avenging angel, so the “twist” is that he does not have carnal designs on young Jake (as the audience is invited to assume), but is so in awe of the Blessed Nuclear Family which he has failed to accomplish that he “punishes” the father for transgressing it.  He is at one and the same time a menace to the family and its most staunch defender.

And in the police station (where he’s “invited” to talk before the arrival of his lawyer) Williams finally blurts out a torrent of anger and pain making it clear he was himself sexually exploited as a boy and made to perform for photographs by one of his parents (we don’t need to guess which one). He is a bona fide Victim then, as well as being a marauding Predator for the film’s first half, living proof of that “cycle of abuse” theory the experts love to tell us about. It’s a hateful film precisely because our natural sympathies for this loveless lonely man are continually undermined and offset by triggers that make us suspect “the worst” of him. When he stops to cheer Jake on playing baseball one afternoon, and brings him a toy the boy coveted from his store, the boy’s coach is instantly suspicious and calls across “Everything OK there Jake?”  Of course he should be suspicious at a friendly man stopping to speak to the boy.  Why wouldn’t he be?  Welcome to “stranger danger” world, where everyone male is a probable pervert, unless we’ve very good reason to suppose otherwise.  “ONE HOUR PHOTO” is a supermarket snapshot of a very sick society indeed.  But when is the doctor coming?

 

Continue to the next chapter: Sad and fleeting beauty