Sunday, April 24, 2011

'Cinema' Verite' & 'An American Family': Must-See Companion Pieces


I've been waiting weeks for HBO's premiere of "Cinema Verite" which at last aired Saturday night. While it's apparent this a highly dramatized (if not downright fictionalized) account of the 1973 documentary series "An American Family," the doc behind the doc is riveting viewing.

Diane Lane convincingly carries the show as unconditionally loving mom Pat Loud, while, unfortunately, Thomas Dekker's portrayal of oldest kid Lance Loud—regarded as America's first look at a "real-life" homosexual—is big on caricature sans the central family member's exalting moxie for life.

Meanwhile, PBS is airing the original 12-hour "An American Family" series in major markets for the first time in 20 years, which has been fascinating to watch (particularly juxtaposed against the HBO film), albeit painfully slow, since it was filmed in an era before the reality genre even existed.

Long sequences showing one of the daughters at tap class or the other two sons conjuring the Rolling Stones in their garage are downright excrutiating... while waiting for the next glimpse of interaction between papa Bill and mamer Pat, or Lance discovering liberation—and a place where he finally belongs—in New York, living at the famed Hotel Chelsea.

Nonetheless, the two programs viewed as companion pieces offer an engaging look at American life in the early 1970s (everybody smokes everywhere, the fashion, the hair, the lingo), alongside a keen moral compass of an era where the very fabric of the family was in question. Bravo.