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.
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A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the first American family to be the subjects of a reality TV show.
April 15, 2021