In 1973 the US public broadcaster PBS screened a 12-part series (An American Family) tracking the everyday lives of an ordinary American family. They weren’t famous, tremendously rich, nor representative of anything other than sheer suburban ordinariness. Widely considered to be the first reality TV show, it was as controversial then as Lara Bingle’s claims to legitimacy are today. America was shocked that intimate details of other people’s lives were turned into TV fodder. An American Family was a reminder of the debasement of society. Never mind that Richard Nixon was being impeached in the background and the country was ablaze with anti-war protests. No, the appropriately named ‘loud family’ was the real cause of social chaos and upheaval.
Cinema Verite is the story behind the making of the doco and offers a contested view of how it all went down. Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) pitches his idea of cameras in the home capturing every moment to PBS executives who are less than impressed. Especially so when the early footage reveals little more than a family doing family stuff. But it turned out the Loud family had much more to offer. Bill (Tom Robbins) was a womaniser who left his dutiful wife Pat (Diane Lane) at home to ponder a life not lived. During the course of the original series the real life couple argued, snarked, battled and eventually divorced ‘live’ in front of millions of viewers. Now that’s how you do reality TV. The executives liked that much more.
Cinema Verite is a revealing look at the chicanery and manipulation of America’s first reality TV family. They suffered but they fought back, on talk shows and in the media. The Loud family learnt quickly that the best defence is offence – in more ways than one.