A colorful 70’s time capsule and an immersion into the beginnings of reality television, the groundbreaking doc An American Family still grabs our attention today. But let’s face it, the 12-hour version is a lot of Louds, even though suburban couple Bill and Pat Loud dealing with their five children and breaking up their marriage on camera quickly draws you in and keeps you around for more. The 2-hour version being shown on PBS tonight (and channel 13 in New York tomorrow) is just as gripping an alternative.
This version is edited by Alan and Susan Raymond, who photographed the original, and includes all the high points. Beyond the most famous scene, in which Pat tells Bill to move out, we see extended sequences of Pat visiting her forthrightly gay son, Lance, in New York at the Chelsea Hotel, and later asking him not to make a reservation for his straight-laced father there if he should visit.
And if you watch this compilation after having seen the fine HBO drama Cinema Verite, which takes a behind the scenes look at the making of An American Family, you’ll appreciate how perfectly that film replicates some scenes, how eerily Tim Robbins captures Bill, slightly oily and obtuse.
Here’s a my full review of An American Family, posted when the entire series was shown in April. This anniversary edition marks 40 years since filming, 38 since the series first aired, and an eon in the life of non-fiction television.