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Craig Gilbert, portrayed here by Gandolfini, James, was the award-winning documentary filmmaker who created and produced the original "American Family" series on PBS. After the controversy about the iconic series, it proved to be his final film credit. See more »
The Louds' Mercedes has a California plate with the number style 1AAA000. These plates did not appear until 1980. See more »
somewhere between the Maysles and the Jersey Shore, there's Cinema Verite...
I wasn't born when the Louds became a major deal in the American public consciousness, as the first sort of "reality" family, but that doesn't matter as I should still be able to take this story on its own terms (for example, what if hypothetically it was all made up, how would it work as a story unto itself). Of course the filmmakers are adept at taking real life and spinning it into docudrama - their breakout sensation was an adaptation of the real life guy who made the comic book American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, which included interviews with the real life subjects - so one would expect this to have some authenticity as it's all about the realm of what is real-real and camera-real. One wonders what the Maysles thought of this filmmaker Gilbert.
As it stands this man, played here by the late James Gandolfini (in the kind of performance that makes me miss him all the more, it's largely subtle work until the third act), is not exactly Maysles. I don't know how close they got to their subjects like the Beales (this made me think back to Grey Gardens quite a bit, also a "reality" movie in its way), but with the Louds it was the "All-American Family", and the ideal for Gilbert in the early 70's was to document it in an anthropological sense: what if aliens come down, after all, in a thousand years and want to see what we were like? It's easy to piece that together in drama, but then once you get the philosophies of Marshall MacLuhan into the mix, which this seems to also be alluding to throughout in a subtextual way, being 'natural' is difficult... at first.
This story of filmmakers following this family - which includes Tim Robbins and Diane Lane as the seemingly happy married couple of a bunch of interesting, happy kids (including one who is gay but quite happy to be in the scenes of Andy Warhol and the Chelsea Hotel and the like) - is certainly gripping for most of its run-time, and gains traction as the drama unfolds for the family. There's infidelity, there's marital strife, and there's Gilbert (usually in the background) with his cameraman and sound recordist in the house getting it all. Sometimes the family doesn't notice they're there. Then they do, and the looks to the camera give it away (maybe my favorite moment is when Robbins, as he's playing the patriarch in an exceedingly tragic and sad moment, gets a foolish grin on his face as he notices the camera as he's getting in his car - it's perfect, it's just how we all would be in that situation, to hide away the pain).
All of the actors can't be faulted in the slightest, and along with Gandolfini and Robbins it's hard to note point out Lane giving one of her best performances in recent memory. But there are times when things seem a little rushed... actually, a lot rushed in the final ten minutes or so, when the series finally airs on PBS and the family has to deal with the fallout. I wish we could see more of this, but the whole movie is only 90 minutes, and after giving us sort of a condensed 'greatest hits' of what this family and the filmmakers went through over several months (almost 80 days to be exact, however over much time I don't know), there seems like it's missing things. I wish there was more there there, and that may be a thing of 'no good movie is long enough' but it's more than that - by the time Cinema Verite wraps up what it has to say, and it's here that the Springer and Pulcini combine the dramatized with the actual of the family on Dick Cavette, it feels a little too little too late.
What if it had been more like 'Splendor', with combining the dramatized with the actual footage? Maybe HBO only gave them so much time, but it feels off in that way. But what is here is still mostly substantial for drama and pathos, and they even get us to feel for a character as lousy (at least from what we can see) as Mr. Loude, in part due to Robbins but also just solid writing. On the whole a little simplistically drawn, and at the same time in the small moments it carries a lot of worth. And to think how far we've come... or fallen, I should say, with what people will let themselves be seen as in "reality" television.
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