Cinéma-vérité: A style of filmmaking characterized by the realistic. It is typical of documentary motion pictures that avoid artificiality and artistic effect, generally made with simple equipment, the style of a “living vision” on film.
The reality television show: every day, millions of American and International viewers sit down with their families and watch everything from everyday people to would-be stars go through the motions of trying to obtain their dream or deal with life’s issues. We watch religiously as we root for our favorites and hope for their good fortune, while thanking our lucky stars that we don’t have their problems, or wishing we had that one break at fame. One concept that eludes the viewer, the underlying fact that we all seem to miss: the camera is always watching. What secrets would be exposed to the masses if we were on the other end of the all seeing eye of the Panaflex.
In 1973, PBS aired the documentary series An American Family, which chronicled the daily lives of the Loud Family. It all started out as a look into the lives of regular people: a mother, a father, children and all that comes with living in our cities and being regular people with regular times, both good and bad. However, with the continual roll of the celluloid, came the exposure of every little “this and that”, every little secret, and then every big secret, every moment of distain and every “horror” that is hidden within a family from the outside world.
The docu-drama Cinema Verite will premiere on HBO April 23, 2011 – and with an all star cast. It will take you back to 1973, into the lives of the Louds; you will see and feel what the first “Reality Family” TV Show was, and you will witness the seen and unseen in vivid detail. The HBO film stars Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Diane Lane, and Oscar and multiple-Golden Globe winner Tim Robbins as the Louds, the California couple who agreed to let their family’s lives become the first “reality” TV show, an unvarnished look at a typical American family.
James Gandolfini co-stars in Cinema Verite as the director of the documentary who’s determined to keep the cameras rolling, especially as the dysfunction of the Louds begins to turn the documentary into a full-fledged drama.
The film also stars Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, Saved!), Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13, A Civil Action), Lolita Davidovich (Hollywood Homicide, Gods and Monsters) and Shanna Collins (Swingtown, In My Sleep). The Loud children are played by Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, A Nightmare on Elm Street) as Lance; Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgram vs. The World, Jennifer’s Body) as Kevin; Nick Eversman (The Runaway, Vampires Suck) as Grant; Caitlin Custer (Memphis Beat, Swingtown) as Delilah, and Kaitlyn Dever (Justified, Bad Teacher) as Michele.
Diane Lane, who plays Pat Loud, comments, “No one was prepared for the kind of backlash that resulted. The family was, in essence, stoned in the town square, burned in effigy. They were a tool in a machine that didn’t know what to do with them, and the public and press were so unforgiving for violating the image of the American family that people wanted to believe about themselves. I think America just didn’t know how to separate the hall of mirrors that this art form reveals. They didn’t like what they saw in the mirror.”
Tim Robbins, who plays Bill Loud, adds, “I think you have to understand the context in which America saw this first representation of what it is to be a family, having cameras on you. It was a major breakthrough for a large segment of the population that was living in the shadows…and in shame in many communities throughout America. Imagine being a gay man in 1973 in a community that considered you a weirdo and an outcast and, oftentimes, you felt your own safety was at risk. And all of a sudden on American television comes Lance Loud, who is openly and proudly gay. I believe it was a major liberation for a lot of American males. It’s taken on a legendary status as something that probably started a sea change in the way homosexuals are perceived.”
A clip of Lance Loud on “The Dick Cavett Show” convinced Thomas Dekker to take the part. “When I read the script I thought he was just this kind of flamboyant guy,” explains Dekker. “But when I watched his interview, I saw that he was such a myriad of things. He was famous for being the first openly gay young guy on television and in the public, and that was a brave thing to do in that time. He had this confidence to go completely in his own direction and no matter how eccentric or daring it was, to him, it was very honest and truthful.”
On December 22, 2001, at age 50, Lance Loud died of liver failure caused by a hepatitis C and HIV, Recently PBS Created a Documentary Lance Loud! A Death in an American Family, a Documentary here Lance told His side of the story, and again exposing more of the family secrets to the world.
An American Family was completely different from the other programming and television shows of the time when it aired in 1973, and brought to the public eye a family unprepared for the consequences. Cinema Verite shows how the Louds were thrust into the spotlight as parents Pat and Bill’s seemingly perfect marriage was in reality falling apart while raising their children. In one part of this momentous story, Pat was publicly criticized for asking for a divorce and for her support of her openly gay son Lance at a time when homosexuality was rarely represented on television.
HBO has produced a show that is riveting to behold, the parts are played perfectly and the story intense with life. The haunting reality of the scenes in this production mirror the scenes of life in the original PBS production, there is a saying “Art Imitates Life”, so I ask “which is art, and which is life?”, does the “Reality Show” show a reality, or is life created or devastated as the camera rolls?