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Decades before housewives had screaming matches with each other on camera in public, the Loud family became a television sensation of a new kind when they appeared on the groundbreaking 1973 PBS documentary series An American Family. Witness the birth of reality television as Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini star in HBO Films' presentation of Cinema Verite.
||Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, James Gandolfini|
||AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled|
||English, French, Spanish|
|Number of Discs:
||HBO Home Video|
|DVD Release Date:
||April 24, 2012|
|Average Customer Rating:
|| based on 16 reviews|
Average Customer Review:
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10 of 10 found the following review helpful:
Reality Borne: A Fascinating Look Back At Television History And A True Cultural PhenomenonApr 25, 2011
By K. Harris
It's hard to imagine a time in the television landscape before the phenomenon known as reality programming. But there was a simpler period where it was inconceivable that turning an eye towards ourselves could ever be considered entertainment. Now, of course, the claims of entertainment value may be overstated in many cases of modern reality TV (as well as the fact that it has veered decidedly away from realness)--but, there's no denying, it has become a genre that has proliferated beyond any reason. The PBS documentary series "An American Family" aired in 1973 over twelve weeks and shattered all viewership records for the educational station. This alleged sociological presentation was meant to depict an average American family--but in choosing the Loud clan, the cards were stacked to provoke maximum interest. With a marriage at the brink of dissolution, open philandering, and a flamboyantly homosexual son (in a time where this was not a common TV subject)--this American family knew little of the impact the experiment would have on their lives or on America. HBO is revisiting this historical and cultural milestone with "Cinema Verite," a fascinating examination that captures the period with great specificity.
Whether or not you are familiar with this tale, there is much to recommend the film. First and foremost, the cast expertly captures the rhythm and mannerisms of their real life counterparts. Tim Robbins, as Bill Loud, is all bluster and showmanship even as his life is being stripped away before the camera and Thomas Dekker does well with the larger-than-life son Lance. The movie, however, all but belongs to Diane Lane as matriarch Pat. Pat is a study of contradictions as both a housewife and mother and a quasi-feminist. Her dalliances with a documentary producer (James Gandolfini) provide the film's most unsettling conflict. On one hand, they give her the power to make necessary personal choices with her husband--but there is a certain exploitation factor at work as well. In this unexplored television landscape, it was hard to determine where to draw the line--and Pat used the documentary as much as she was used by it. It is actually quite fascinating.
The film can basically be divided into three sections--accepting the offer, filming, and the aftermath. Early on, we see why the Louds would be attracted to the project without fully understanding the repercussions. The filming itself provided much strain and petty jealousies (Bill constantly felt left out). It is a thoroughly intriguing look at innocence and naivete from a modern vantage point. As Lane takes a stronger and more pronounced role, "Cinema Verite" achieves moments of great power. Lane is an undervalued dramatic actress too often relegated (or more precisely choosing) glossy and sometimes empty-headed Hollywood films--here you see the grit beneath the polished surface and it's terrific. We, in 2011, understand more about the price of fame than the Louds ever could. And it is in the devastating aftermath of the airing that we see the family really come together in unexpected ways. Reviled, hated, and terrorized--the Louds become a truly unified force only after the fact. Anyone with an interest in pop culture or television history should check out this accomplished and entertaining film. It's fascinating to compare the quaint provocations of the seventies with the overt lewdness of our current age! KGHarris, 4/11.
5 of 6 found the following review helpful:
What about when they're not smiling and posing? The story behind the portrait of "An American Family"Jun 12, 2011
When we see a Christmas card depicting a family portrait festooned with smiles illuminating the American Dream, we rarely ponder what goes on when they're not posing. What happens in that house on a day to day basis when things do not fall into place as they seem to have immaculately done so for their family photos? Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) posited a much darker hypothesis than most. This very "real" depiction of social Americana was captured in this HBO film...that their smiles are ephemeral and their happiness may be just as fleeting as the flash of the camera that captured the facade.
As Gilbert, Gandolfini tests our trust as he double-plays both confidante and silver-tongued devil in his dealings with the parents, particularly the mother (Diane Lane). Gandolfini emcees the plot intrigue well, but Lane is the real star of this gripping film. As the victem in their marriage, she serially outshines Tim Robbins (playing her husband), who does his job and does it well, but simply lacks the scenes and lines to win our favor or sympathy. He simply plays a character that was not designed to win our support.
Set in the early 70's, before reality television had become the over-scripted, sensationalized farce we know today, this true story reveals the process behind the Gilbert's PBS documentary miniseries "An American Family". This was a controversial 10-hour saga that followed the relationship between the parents and children, and readily transformed into an exposé on the problems between the parents. It may not sound as interesting as The Situation's latest shenanigans or Snooki getting arrested on the Jersey Shore, but this American family received no paycheck to provide incentive to sharing their dirty laundry or hamming up drama for ratings or promise of another season.
This film often feels real. Lane and Gandolfini stand at the helm and I found myself rooting for both of them to get what they (their characters) wanted. Lane steals the show but Gandolfini really shows us what he can do. This revealing true story about "An American Family" tests us as we crave more of the very drama that leads us to shovel sympathy at its troubled players.
2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
Having watched the original PBS series as well as Cinema Verite, here is my takeApr 25, 2011
By K. Corn
First, I want to note that there are some typos in my review that I've tried to edit but they don't seem to be updating. Hopefully, they'll be fine within a few hours. If not, apologies.
As some may know, the Loud Family was the subject of what was to become the first television reality series, back in the 1970s. I was among those who watched that original series, week by week, on PBS, and confess that I was unable to take my eyes from the television screen as the family imploded and as Lance Loud's dramatic actions made him the focus of so much of the series. Today, when homosexuality is so much a part of television, it may seem hard to believe that Loud was the clearly gay man to show up on television. Sure, some apparently gay men had appeared in films but these were characters played by actors who may or may not have been gay. For viewers, there was no question about Lance's sexual orientation.
Stick with me here because I do segue from An American Family to Cinema Verite but I think it is vital to have some background info, including a brief historical perspective about the Louds, to understand Cinema Verite more fully.
Compared to today's "reality" television, the Louds may seem quaint, perhaps even boring. After all, we've already seen other shows ad nauseum, including Jon and Kate Plus Eight, where events led to marriage breakdowns, etc. Select a cable channel and you're likely to find some version of a reality show at nearly any hour of the day. That simply wasn't the case when the Loud family was filmed. It truly was a groundbreaking series. Viewers had no idea of the family saga they'd see, more interesting than the latest soap operas (and now even soap operas seem to be a dying breed, especially with the demise of All My Children, etc).
But back to the Loud Family: just as reality shows are sometimes staged today, the producer of An American Family (and the subject of much of Cinema Verite) decided to up the dramatic tension when he revealed certain things to Pat Loud. It is hard to believe that he couldn't have known the effect this would have on Pat. So this did foreshadow some of today's reality shows, where events are manipulated to get higher ratings.
But the crucial difference - one that is shown in Cinema Verite - is that the Louds had no idea their privacy would be so invaded. Perhaps they thought they could hide some of their deepest secrets from the public and come across as a relatively normal family. They also have gone on record as noting that being filmed would transform their lives in far more negative ways than they could possibly envision. Pat didn't seem at all prepared to give Bill an ultimatum and I remember thinking that she might never have done so without having the event on film.
More about Cinema Verite:
It has its pros and cons. It can't possibly capture the essence of the original Loud family reality but it is far better than I imagined. It is a short look at what was a long series. But then it also focuses on the behind the scenes events so it would be unfair to expect it to have the power of An American Family.
Diane Lane definitely evokes Pat Loud, particularly when she is filmed in profile -and I can testify that she does a credible job when it comes to channeling Pat's brittle, no nonsense quality. Tim Robbins actually looks quite a bit like Bill Loud and his portray is compelling and convincing.
Also, Cinema Verite does go beyond the "reality" seen by television viewers who may have watched An American Family, giving a behind the scenes look at the drama as well as the moral and ethical issues faced by the documentary's producer - especially the portray of him as someone who revealed more of Bill's secrets to Pat. This could have been the tipping point that got Pat to confront her husband about long-term problems in their marriage, leading to a crisis filmed for the viewing public to see.
The awkwardness and unease felt by the Loud family teens is palpable in Cinema Verite and that was definitely a part of the original PBS show (I was actually shocked that PBS didn't back down from showing the personal lives of the Loud family in such detail). You can get a deeper look at the actual Loud family by reading American Family: A Televised Life (Visible Evidence) But Lance Loud doesn't emerge as the focus of the series, although he certainly made waves when he was noted to be the first openly gay man on television, portrayed in as close to real life as possible, although I always felt he went into over drive for the cameras.
I had mixed emotions about the focus of Cinema Verite although I did find it riveting to see the off camera drama between the film makers and the Louds. There was simply no way that being filmed could allow the family to be "natural." There were attempts to note that they "forgot" the cameras were there but that was simply not credible (at least to me as a viewer).
I'd urge viewers to compare this to the original film series. Although the original is scarce, if you search online you can sometimes find parts of it and get your own take. I felt that Cinema Verite did capture the way the Louds reacted to being on film. As noted, in spite of their best efforts, they did seem to play to the camera. By the way, troubles and all, the Loud children appeared on a television show and noted that they'd be filmed again, go through the whole experience....in a heartbeat.
But perhaps naively, they never saw the media barrage, often critical, which would come after their lives were paraded in front of the public. Ironically, Pat and Bill actually became closer to each other, forced to batten the hatches with their children. They united to fight back. All of this is revealed in the updates and I like how the actors in Cinema Verite were shown next to the actual Loud family members.
Also fascinating: at the end of Cinema Verite, the actual Loud family is shown as well as updates about their current lives, including one very tragic death. You may be startled to discover the most current update on Pat and Bill Loud. I felt sad to think that the trend started by Cinema Verite, one that still continues full speed today, didn't end up exposing so much of reality television for what it is - something that can exploit both those filmed as well as viewers who come to believe that what they're seeing is actual reality instead of a type of acting and playing to the cameras.
Ironically, Cinema Verite is likely to put the Loud family back into the spotlight again, interviews and all. But this time they're apt to be prepared for the media attention. After all, they've been through the worst of it before.
1 of 1 found the following review helpful:
Enraged dichotomy of the era...Jan 28, 2012
By Chris Wilson
There's good ideas lurking near the surface of "Cinema Verite," an interesting 2010 made-for-HBO film with a rushed screenplay creating forced drama. Sometimes it works, but "Cinema Verite" continues a tradition of HBO films investing in strong casts but average screenplays and cut-rate production values (Cheaters, The Rat Pack, RKO 281 - The Battle Over Citizen Kane). I must admit I was not familiar with this film's subject, the epic PBS examination of the Loud household American Family: Anniversary Edition. A groundbreaking 1971 experiment combining documentary tradition with what would evolve into today's Reality TV, for six months filmmakers camped in the suburban Santa Barbara household of the energetic Loud clan, as colorful as anything seen in the fictional "The Brady Bunch." With four teenage children, a philandering father and a sultry, rebellious housewife, the documentary was evidently an incredible sensation breaking all records for PBS viewership (American Family: A Televised Life (Visible Evidence)).
Substantial effort has been made to recreate the Loud household and their 1970's lifestyle. The casting of Tim Robbins and Diane Lane as the parents guarantees interesting performances and they do not disappoint. Lane especially gives an award-worthy portrayal as Patricia Loud. Trapped in a passionless marriage and yet with enough youth to turn heads while shopping, she ultimately must choose between her husband and self respect. Having grown up in the 1970s, I can personally attest to the enraged dichotomy of the era - an unparalleled mix of family values, the pill, Marcus Welby, pot smoke, Elton John, John Wayne and bell bottoms. Lane's character awkwardly embraces the time while struggling to satisfy an absent, uncaring husband.
Robbins has the difficult role of Bill Loud, a philandering, heavy-drinking father and a self-proclaimed graduate from the "school of hard knocks." Robbins' character shows love towards his children and at times great patience. But he exhausts much of his emotion on a series of affairs eventually discovered by his wife, leading to the true-to-life conclusion of the infamous TV program.
I found the drama between the documentary filmmakers to be more interesting as director Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini, in a nice supporting turn) angrily argues ethics with his young cameraman (Patrick Fugit). Gilbert was the creative force behind "An American Family," selling the project to both PBS executives and the Louds. He believes the only way the documentary can achieve success is by filming the family's every private argument. This "nothing is sacred" philosophy, having much in common with today's flood of Reality TV (Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture), alienates his crew. I would have liked these conflicts to have been fleshed out rather than just one token scene in a restaurant parking lot.
The film also insinuates Gandolfini's Gilbert had much to do with creating the family conflict, at one point providing Patricia clues to her husband's affairs. Gilbert also appears to have a crush on Patricia, inserting himself into the family drama (which also violates traditional documentary ethics). Needless-to-say, this is a potentially meaty screenplay that probably should have been increased to a three-hour running time.
HBO had the directors to achieve greatness in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, whose previous credit was the brilliant 2003 film American Splendor. I found much of the period detail lovingly recreated and appreciated their portrait of New York's Bohemian life circa 1971, including a trip to a drag show and the Chelsea Hotel. Here we are introduced to Thomas Dekker's fine performance as the Loud's oldest son Lance, a homosexual with dreams of creating within Andy Warhol's Factory (Andy Warhol: The Factory Years, 1964-1967). Of the many characters rushing through "Cinema Verite" far too quickly, Dekker's Lance is given the most screen time. Historically, there was a huge backlash against the Louds after the documentary aired due to Lance's open homosexuality and his parents' acceptance. It appears America was not yet ready for such tolerance - yet another subplot skimmed.
"Cinema Verite" could have been an epic HBO drama detailing multiple themes having resonance today. Sometimes a subject deserves more than the allotted, mass consumption running time.
3 of 4 found the following review helpful:
Fairly Pointless Rehash Of OriginalMay 04, 2012
By Peter Baklava
It's hard for me to believe that anyone who hadn't first experienced "An American Family", the PBS series of 1973, would relate to this film in any way.
"An American Family" was a groundbreaking ten hour documentary that aired on PBS. It was a pretty accurate depiction of a large, white, liberal suburban Californian family in the early 70's. I vaguely remember watching parts of the original airing. What I saw was a wildly extroverted,individualistic, confident, entitled and somewhat spoiled group of people, headed by a couple (Bill and Pat Loud) who were barely on the same page. Bill was a wheeler-dealer, a big breadwinner with an outsized ego. Pat was a cagey earth mother, just as materialistic as her husband, but in tune with the times. The children were both charming and obnoxious. It all seemed to be well expressed by their surname: LOUD...nothing more American than that.
This rehash, "Cinema Verite", attempts to reflect the original work plus provide a behind the scenes story.
In doing so, it does diverge considerably from the original. "American Family" at first focused on the oldest child, Lance, who was in the process of leaving the family to go to "find Andy Warhol" and live at the Chelsea hotel in NYC. Lance is portrayed as brilliant, eccentric, and very close to his mother. Not quite true. In the original, Lance was more obnoxious than brilliant, and he clearly had issues with his mother, who was not completely comfortable with her son's homosexuality, by any means. Lance tinted his hair red, which was not portrayed in "Cinema Verite" at all.
Lance was, as the eldest child, sort of the point man for all the children's issues with the parents. Sister Delilah was particularly close to Lance, and appeared alongside his appearance fronting his first rock band on Dick Cavett's show. The band was also, appropriately, called "Loud".
Lance's self-destruction gave way to the story of the unraveling marraige of Pat and Bill. Bill was pretty accurately cast as the villain, since he was always on the periphery of the family, out-of-touch and secretly philandering.
In the immediate wake of the series, Pat Loud rebounded as a "feminist heroine", taking matters into her own hands and refusing victimhood. She authored a popular book that was a tell-all about the series and her point of view.
Pat Loud's memoir, then, appears to be the foundation for "Cinema Verite", which goes a step further and points the finger at Craig Gilbert, the series' creator, as the master manipulator and true villain.
In point of fact, nobody who partook in this fascinating fiasco comes away with clean hands. "American Family" remains an interesting relic of the 1970's, a much more authentic form of reality TV than the glitz offered in the 2000's.
For television ethnographers, it deserves a place on the shelf next to "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."
"Cinema Verite" exhumes the original series, but it doesn't add much of anything. It is watchable mostly because of a good performance by Diane Lane, who captures Pat Loud brilliantly. Tim Robbins is only adequate as Bill Loud, and though it's wonderful to catch a glimpse of Lolita Davidovich, she has a mere pinch of screen time.
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