An American Family (1973)

PBS (ended 1973)


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An American Family (1973)

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Decades before MTV ignited the reality-TV phenomenon with “The Real World,” this 12-hour PBS series documented the lives of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, CA. This upper-middle class family allowed film makers Alan and Susan Raymond into their home for nine months, and the result was a stinging portrait of the American Family circa 1970. Patriarch Bill Loud owned a small construction company; his wife Pat was the chain-smoking housewife and mother to the couple’s five teen-aged children. Sons Kevin and Grant spend the summer rehearsing their band in the garage while Kevin tries his hand at part-time work in Dad’s office. Youngest daughter Michele struggles with adolescence while eldest daughter Delilah twirls the baton and enjoys her popular high school status. The breakout star of the family, however, is living in New York, experimenting with his new-found freedom and sexuality. Eldest son Lance Loud’s flamboyant lifestyle and open homosexuality shocked some viewers but electrified the series. Mother Pat’s visit to Lance’s one-room apt. in Manhattan dominated episode three of the series, introducing her and the American public to the life of an urban gay man in the early 70's. Evenings were spent in questionable downtown cabarets and clubs, with Lance’s hilariously fey roommate accompanying mother and son. Back home in Santa Barbara, the Loud’s marriage was slowly unraveling. The moment when Bill Loud, quietly and calmly, picked up the phone to reserve a hotel room for the night, signaling the end of his marriage, remains a high watermark of cinema verite. Lance Loud lived with HIV for 18 years and passed away in a Los Angeles hospice in 2001. The rest of his family remain ambivalent about the experience of making “An American Family,” a series which put their lives in a fishbowl but allows them to be classified as pioneers of the genre. Today’s reality television is redolent with its participants confessing to the camera every thought or feeling which occurs to them, but in 1973, the Louds simply lived their lives, with no self-explanation or apology.moreless