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In 1973, the Loud family became a television sensation of a new kind. It was long before a metal rock star showed his eccentric family on the small screen and decades before housewives had screaming matches with each other on camera in public. CINEMA VERITE tells the behind-the-scenes story of the groundbreaking documentary "An American Family," which chronicled the lives of the Louds in the early 1970s and catapulted the Santa Barbara family to notoriety while creating a new television genre: the reality TV series.
|Crew :||Robert Pulcini / Shari Springer Berman /|
|Cast :||Tim Robbins Diane Lane James Gandolfini Thomas Dekker Kaitlyn Dever|
somewhere between the Maysles and the Jersey Shore, there's Cinema Verite...---I wasn't born when the Louds became a major deal in the American public consciousness, as the first sort of "reality" family, but that doesn't matter as I should still be able to take this story on its own terms (for example, what if hypothetically it was all made up, how would it work as a story unto itself). Of course the filmmakers are adept at taking real life and spinning it into docudrama - their breakout sensation was an adaptation of the real life guy who made the comic book American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, which included interviews with the real life subjects - so one would expect this to have some authenticity as it's all about the realm of what is real-real and camera-real. One wonders what the Maysles thought of this filmmaker Gilbert.As it stands this man, played here by the late James Gandolfini (in the kind of performance that makes me miss him all the more, it's largely subtle work until the third act), is not exactly Maysles. I don't know how close they got to their subjects like the Beales (this made me think back to Grey Gardens quite a bit, also a "reality" movie in its way), but with the Louds it was the "All-American Family", and the ideal for Gilbert in the early 70's was to document it in an anthropological sense: what if aliens come down, after all, in a thousand years and want to see what we were like? It's easy to piece that together in drama, but then once you get the philosophies of Marshall MacLuhan into the mix, which this seems to also be alluding to throughout in a subtextual way, being 'natural' is difficult... at first.This story of filmmakers following this family - which includes Tim Robbins and Diane Lane as the seemingly happy married couple of a bunch of interesting, happy kids (including one who is gay but quite happy to be in the scenes of Andy Warhol and the Chelsea Hotel and the like) - is certainly gripping for most of its run-time, and gains traction as the drama unfolds for the family. There's infidelity, there's marital strife, and there's Gilbert (usually in the background) with his cameraman and sound recordist in the house getting it all. Sometimes the family doesn't notice they're there. Then they do, and the looks to the camera give it away (maybe my favorite moment is when Robbins, as he's playing the patriarch in an exceedingly tragic and sad moment, gets a foolish grin on his face as he notices the camera as he's getting in his car - it's perfect, it's just how we all would be in that situation, to hide away the pain).All of the actors can't be faulted in the slightest, and along with Gandolfini and Robbins it's hard to note point out Lane giving one of her best performances in recent memory. But there are times when things seem a little rushed... actually, a lot rushed in the final ten minutes or so, when the series finally airs on PBS and the family has to deal with the fallout. I wish we could see more of this, but the whole movie is only 90 minutes, and after giving us sort of a condensed 'greatest hits' of what this family and the filmmakers went through over several months (almost 80 days to be exact, however over much time I don't know), there seems like it's missing things. I wish there was more there there, and that may be a thing of 'no good movie is long enough' but it's more than that - by the time Cinema Verite wraps up what it has to say, and it's here that the Springer and Pulcini combine the dramatized with the actual of the family on Dick Cavette, it feels a little too little too late.What if it had been more like 'Splendor', with combining the dramatized with the actual footage? Maybe HBO only gave them so much time, but it feels off in that way. But what is here is still mostly substantial for drama and pathos, and they even get us to feel for a character as lousy (at least from what we can see) as Mr. Loude, in part due to Robbins but also just solid writing. On the whole a little simplistically drawn, and at the same time in the small moments it carries a lot of worth. And to think how far we've come... or fallen, I should say, with what people will let themselves be seen as in "reality" television.
recreation of behind-the-scene story of the original reality show---In 1973, PBS aired reality show 'An American Family' after filming the Loud family for a year. It's 1971 in Santa Barbara. Filmmaker Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) meets Pat Loud (Diane Lane) but she's reluctant at first. Her confident Nixon-supporting often-absent womanizing husband Bill (Tim Robbins) is more interested. They have four kids. Lance (Thomas Dekker) is the gay son in NYC that Bill is still clueless about. Kevin (Johnny Simmons) and Grant (Nick Eversman) have their band. Delilah is the 16 year old having fun. Michelle (Kaitlyn Dever) is the youngest. Newlyweds Susan (Shanna Collins) and Alan Raymond (Patrick Fugit) are filming them.I don't know how much of this has been fictionalized. It feels very over-dramatized. In many ways, this movie is misguided. A film about the Louds would be fine. This is about the show about the Louds. It's the filmmaking and the process behind the scenes that is more important. This is trying too hard to recreate the TV show. The use of the old footage side-by-side with the new footage only re-enforces that idea. It's at best a recreation of the behind-the-scene story. Gilbert's conflict with the Raymonds is probably the best moments of this film. The personal drama of the family is good but without the cameras would be just another personal movie. This should be more about the filmmakers than about the family.
Reality TV done for real.---In 1971 an all American family from Santa Barbara in California were chosen, seemingly at random, to take part in a TV experiment. It was to become the world's first reality TV show called "An American Family" and its stars, the Loud family – both by name and at times by nature, were to become national phenomena.But to get to legendary status the show's producer, Craig Gilbert, had a pretty hard sell to the board of TV company PBS who were reluctant, to say the least, to commit to the show and began to baulk at the cost of production as the film stock costs (in particular) began to mount.Their concern was about the "view-ability" of the show and whether it would find an audience. They needn't have worried because what gradually emerged was a tale of a swinging misogynist father (Tim Robbins), a hopeless and helpless (but sultry in Gilbert's opinion) Mom played brilliantly by Diane Lane and a screamingly gay son, Lance, played gleefully by Thomas Dekker. Not to mention a looky-likey Rolling Stones band fronted by the other two boys.But it's what's going on in the mind of Producer Gilbert (played masterfully by James Gandolfini with a very unlikely full beard and absolutely no gangster element whatsoever to draw on) that is the meat of the movie. Well, I say a movie but it's actually a documentary set within a drama, about a reality TV documentary that turns out larger than life than any drama.At points we see side by side comparisons between the "real" family and the 2011 actors. It's uncanny. Gandolfini manipulates all sides as he makes the "action" more and more interesting but in doing so contributes to the family meltdown and the confidence of his crew. It's terrific.I don't think this ever made it to cinema, it's an HBO production, but it's great and I saw it last night on Sky Atlantic so is likely to be repeated at some time. If it is tune in because it's a little gem.
Strong film about a documentary series that rocked the nation---Surprisingly successful HBO film, which takes on the tricky multi-layered task of making a fictionalized docudrama about the making of "An American Family" a 10 hour PBS documentary that was the direct forerunner the surreal and semi-real world of 'reality television' we know today. James Gandolfini plays James Gilbert, who has the brilliant idea to study a 'typical' American Family on film, almost as if it were an archaeological document. But of course no family is 'typical' (particularly the upscale Loud family), and all sorts of sticky moral, ethical and cinematic walls are crashed into. How objective can a documentary really be? What is, or should be off-limits of a prying camera? How much do the personalities and needs of the film-makers effect the behavior and choices subjects, subtly or sometimes very dramatically? It also explores questions about family, as did the original series, but with the value of the passage of years to give context and distance. What is normal? Who are the heroes and villains in the complexities of family life? Are things ever that simple? Why do so many of us want to be seen, known? Or at least think we do? It's very impressive that an 86 minute film can address so many of these questions so intelligently, entertainingly, disturbingly and ultimately movingly. The acting is all solid, with Diane Lane giving what may be the most impressive performance of her career, disappearing into the role of Pat Loud, the confused, self-searching mother. While one could validly argue that there was more to explore (e.g. why was this series such a phenomenon? Why are we so driven to watch the train wrecks of other's lives?) this film does a terrific job of self-awarely playing with multiple layers and meanings of 'reality'. Not least when we briefly see footage of the real family cut in. Not surprising from these filmmakers, who also played with various levels of drama vs. reality so well in "American Splendor".
Started out well but lost it in the middle---These reality show movies are hard to watch. I did not hear about the Louds before. But it would have been interesting to watch what went wrong with America's sweetheart family. However, the script did not have enough punch to hold the interest for the entire time. James Gandolfini is such a good actor. He made an unlikeable character tolerable. Diane Lane was not quite believable as a gullible, wronged woman. Tim Robbins was watchable, however something was missing and I just didn't believe in his character. It started out fine, had a lot of potential when it moved to Manhattan, but somewhere down the second act, it lost its grip. Wish it had the momentum going somehow. Alas, it didn't end too well for me.