Keeping It Real

In the 21st century, we’ve seen it all. We’ve peered into the lives of Hulk Hogan and Ozzy Osbourne, the over-fertile Gosselins and the Octomom, the Kardashians and Snoop Dogg. But back in 1973, when reality television was still called cinéma vérité, the PBS documentary An American Family — a twelve-episode series that left the camera running day and night as the members of the Loud family lived out their lives in Santa Barbara, California — premiered to a viewership that had never seen anything like it. To call it edgy is putting it mildly; the camera’s unrelenting eye often leaves a viewer uncomfortable, if morbidly fascinated, in light of inter-familial goings-on almost cruelly caught with a television audience in mind. The denouement, followed silently and without comment by filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond, is rife with references to son Lance Loud’s pre-AIDS gay lifestyle and the structure of marital breakup, among other things; subsequent revisitations in later years included a reverie on the then-HIV-positive and hep-C-infected Lance’s death in 2001. And it all ostensibly still rings true today, considering that PBS is repackaging the original into a two-hour special, An American Family: Anniversary Edition. The compilation special airs tonight at 9 p.m. on KRMA-TV/Channel 6; further excerpts and an entire episode are also available online at www.pbs.org/programs/americanfamily.
Thu., July 7, 9 p.m., 2011

 
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