'Must Read After My Death'


Fans of the fascinating documentary "Capturing the Friedmans" might want to take a gander at "Must Read After My Death," which is in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Like that earlier film, this one incorporates a wealth of home movies and audio tapes to document the behavior of a dysfunctional family over a period of years. The secrets revealed are not as shocking as the hints of child molestation in "Friedmans," but this is an equally intriguing and unsettling look at the turmoil hidden behind the white picket fences of suburbia.

Charley and Allis were married after World War II and raised four children in Hartford, Conn. They seemed to have a compulsive desire to document their lives because they left thousands of feet of home movies as well as numerous tape recordings that chronicle their problems. Some of the recordings were made at the behest of their psychiatrist, who counseled them and reinforced the prejudices of the era regarding a woman's place in the home.

Although Allis was a strong-willed woman, she was encouraged to subordinate her own needs to those of her husband, a drinker and philanderer. Their children suffered as a result of this psychodrama: Two of them were sent to mental institutions, and one of them died as a teenager. Eventually, Charley also died under mysterious circumstances after Allis confronted him about his failings.

Technically, the film is limited by the quality of the home movie footage, but it remains engrossing, if not quite as explosive as "Friedmans." The director, Morgan Dews, happens to be the couple's grandson, and he was granted access to the tapes after Allis' death.

Given the resistance to documentaries at the boxoffice, the film will find only a limited audience. But that audience will be riveted.