Do you remember the Loud family? They were the subjects of PBS’s wildly popular documentary series, “An American Family,” in 1973.The series followed the family’s total breakup and crack up. Think “The Real World” before anyone thought of it. The filmmakers were just flies on the wall, sort of. The parents, Bill and Pat, wound up getting a divorce. Lance Loud, the eldest son, was the first gay person anyone had ever seen on TV. (He died of AIDS in 2001.)
Twelve hours were edited down from three hundred. Now HBO is airing “Cinema Verite,” a film about the series and the Louds and what happened to them. It’s a great film and makes for interesting closure. For example, Bill and Pat reunited after their divorce. Documentarian Craig Gilbert, who is credited with inventing the reality TV genre with this show, was so traumatized by the experience that he never worked again.
Our Leah Sydney went to the L.A. premiere recently, and got a bead on everyone. She talked to co-directors Robert Pulcini and Sheri Springer Berman (“American Splendor”): “This show when it aired , although it got 10 million viewers, was a scandal-and Craig had enough-he never worked again. He was a wealthy man before it but he was so upset about it all that he got out of the business. It was a very difficult movie. It was like Rashomon. Everyone had a different perspective on what went down. They were really burned by exposure. Tonight was the first time I met them, and they were pleased with the way the way they were portrayed. I’ve never had an experience like this. They’ve been living in my mind for years.”
James Gandolfini plays Craig Gilbert, the man who was behind the cameras for “An American Family.” He told Leah: “I’ve gone to lunch with him a few times in NYC. He’s a wonderful man, smart, honest incredibly intelligent. Old fashioned way about him, graduated from Harvard. He was an ambulance driver in World War 2- he’s old school. I enjoy him immensely I love the guy. This experience really hurt him. I think he was so astounded that the Loud family got so destroyed and he got so destroyed by people. They went after the Loud family so viciously. All they were really were regular people and their family was not that much different than anybody elses. He was just trying to document it and they went after both of them so viciously that he said the hell with this.”
Gandolfini says Gilbert didn’t realize what impact he would have on the Louds, the film world, or culture in general. “He tried to do something that nobody else had ever done. It ended up this exceptional thing. Then they threw out all the rest of the footage, hours and hours they threw it all out-and he was incredibly hurt by all of it.
I’m really pleased that they all seem to be ok with all of it. He’s more fascinating in person. He’s a bit of a freak-but a great guy. He tells me what an asshole I am every time he sees me. You’re an asshole Jim, you’re an idiot. I say you’re absolutely right and I laugh-he’s a charming man. “