Looking at the Louds: A video supplement to ‘Cinema Verite’ and ‘An American Family’

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On Saturday night, HBO will premiere ‘Cinema Verite,’ its TV movie about the 1973 PBS documentary ‘An American Family.’ That 12-hour series, which I review here, has been called the first reality show, though it resembles what we call reality television in no important respect -- it is a fly-on-the-wall documentary film, rather, episodically shaped, detailing seven months in the lives of Pat and Bill Loud of Santa Barbara and their five children. Pat and Bill separated during the course of the film, and eventually divorced, and though this dramatic moment was seized upon both by PBS and the public as the central fact of the series, ‘An American Family’ presents it as only one thread in the fabric of ongoing family life.

As a kind of contextual side dish to ‘Cinema Verite’ and to PBS SoCal/KOCE’s rare marathon rebroadcast of the original ‘An American Family,’ beginning Saturday at 11 p.m., here are a few related videos I have gathered from the Web. (The series is not available on home video, so this broadcast is an opportunity not to be missed; a selection of clips is available here.)

‘An American Family’ was a television success and a cultural landmark, watched by millions and reported upon everywhere. The family itself, exposed at such length, was anatomized and attacked -- and celebrated as well -- by professional and amateur commentators alike to an extent none of them could have imagined when they opened their doors to producer Craig Gilbert and his crew. In the two clips below, taped as the series aired, they appear on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ to react to the reaction and present another side of the story.

Lance went on to sing lead in the New York-based band the Mumps, formed with high school best friend and ‘American Family’ running mate Kristian Hoffman. Brothers Kevin and Grant were musical as well -- more musical, some would say, though I am a longtime fan of the Mumps and Lance’s boyishly grandiloquent vocalizing. In this pre-Mumps clip, taped -- at KCET Studios on Sunset, according to Hoffman -- after the filming of ‘An American Family’ but possibly before its broadcast, Lance is accompanied by singing-dancing sisters Delilah and Michele, while Kevin plays bass.


And here are the Mumps in their maturity.

An interview with Lance and Kristian from 1978. ‘An American Family’ content begins at minute 13.

Alan and Susan Raymond were the filmmakers on the ground for ‘An American Family’; producer Gilbert, who devised the project, stayed mostly in New York, while the Raymonds appended themselves to the Louds. (They made two subsequent films about them, ‘American Family Revisited: The Louds Ten Years Later,’ and ‘Lance Loud! A Death in an American Family.’) Here they are interviewed for the Television Academy’s Archive of American Television, remembering their most famous subjects. (This is only part of a much longer interview, available here.)

Given the intense media coverage, there’s surprisingly little of the Louds online: the clips above, a few things lifted from ‘An American Family,’ and (mostly) Mumps videos. (Only portions of the Dick Cavett interview, which also included Bill and Pat and Craig Gilbert, have been posted.) I did run into this interesting bit of related content as I searched the ‘netwaves, which seems to speak in an oblique way to the ‘Cinema Verite’ film and the process and hazards of dramatizing real people’s lives: a 2009 ‘remake’ of episode 11 of ‘An American Family,’ by ‘AveryF86,’ a film student at Bard college, using the transcript as a script and made without having seen the original. If there is a message here it is that people are much more than the words they say. And, oddly, it is even slower than its model.

--Robert Lloyd


Television reviews: ‘Cinema Verite’ and ‘An American Family’

A new look at ‘An American Family’