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TV Review: HBO’s ‘Cinema Verite’ With Diane Lane, Tim Robbins
CHICAGO – How did we get here? How did the reality TV craze start? Some would have you believe that it is a modern trend and its popularity in the ’00s and ’10s has certainly been striking, but it’s much older than that. In 1973, when a film crew showed up at the Loud family household to shoot the 12-part series “An American Family,” which has been credited as being the start of the trend, do you think they envisioned a future that contained “Real Housewives of Orange County”?
TV Rating: 3.5/5.0
HBO’s “Cinema Verite” chronicles the making of the PBS documentary series and the impact it had on the Loud family. It’s led by Pat (Diane Lane) and Bill Loud (Tim Robbins), who struggled with marital issues including the specter of a looming divorce while the cameras rolled. Bill obnoxiously acted up in front of the camera and baited Pat into fights as the camera operators had no idea what to film and when to turn them off. “An American Family” is also credited with being one of the first programs to display homosexuality through the difficulties faced by the openly gay Lance Loud (Thomas Dekker). James Gandolfini returns to HBO as Craig Gilbert, the filmmaker who virtually lived with the Louds for seven months to make his documentary vision a reality. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini (“American Splendor”) direct.
Photo credit: HBO
What is appropriate to shoot? What is appropriate for television audiences to watch? Are there lines that can’t be crossed? And how do we change when the cameras are rolling? Is there such a thing as “reality TV”? Can reality actually be captured on television or does the very existence of the camera make it something different from reality? These are fascinating questions that “Cinema Verite” attempts to at least discuss if not answer in only 90 minutes.
Photo credit: HBO
Think about “Cinema Verite” at its very foundation — It is a film recreation of a real family being shot for television. The blurring of television’s version of reality with the storytelling liberties of writers recreating off-camera conversations and character motivations makes for a pretty hazy screenplay. I wished that I could just watch a documentary about the impact of “An American Family,” Gilbert’s motivations, and how the series changed not just the Loud family but television. More than ten million people tuned into “An American Family.” It truly had a major impact on the landscape and a personal one on the Loud family.
But a fictionalized version of it doesn’t automatically have dramatic power just because the Louds were an interesting part of the history of the medium. Pulcini and Berman brilliantly merged real larger-than-life characters with film storytelling in “American Splendor” and I think their interest in the unique personalities of Pat and Lance Loud probably drew them to the material, but I’m not sure what you’ll get out of “Cinema Verite” or even what the filmmakers intend. I don’t feel like I know the Louds any more than I did before the movie.
Having said that, one should appreciate “Cinema Verite” most of all for the performances, made even more interesting by putting them side-by-side with footage of the actual show to see how closely the actors come to their real-life counterparts. If one only saw Dekker’s performance, they might think it an over-the-top stereotype but there’s the real footage of Lance to prove that it’s not. Diane Lane remains one of our most interesting actresses, always grounding what she does with such a deep sense of realism, and she’s great here yet again. The work by Robbins makes one wonder why he doesn’t work more often. Finally, Gandolfini is good and great to have back on HBO but I’m a little thrown off by the suggestions of Craig’s romantic interest in Pat that has been denied by all parties involved. Wasn’t reality interesting enough?