“Cinema Verite” sheds light on the first reality show

By Tom Comi

Long before MTV was filming a bunch of single people living together in the same household or CBS was stranding contestants on a desert island, it was PBS of all networks that introduced the world a new genre later to be labeled as reality TV.

The year was 1973, and the 12-part documentary entitled An American Family followed the daily lives of the Loud family. Almost 40 years later, HBO takes us back in time with Cinema Verite, an original movie that recaptures the essence of the documentary and the family it followed (premieres Saturday at 9pm ET).

Starring Diane Lane and Tim Robbins as Pat and Bill Loud, Cinema Verite details how and why a California couple allowed a camera crew (James Gandolfini plays the producer) to follow them and their five kids for seven months. What might have begun as a fun project ended anything but when the millions of viewers watched their marriage fall apart and one of their sons come out of the closet (keep in mind that divorce and homosexuality were taboo subjects at the time).

Because none of the Louds agreed to participate in the making of the movie, Lane said she was forced to rely on Pat’s autobiography to prepare for the part.

“I read Pat Loud’s book,” Lane told Channel Guide Magazine. “She still wants to know why she did it herself because if she could undo it, she would have, but she can only be innocent once, and that was what drew everybody’s amazement, shock and disdain — because you can’t get your innocence back and America was angry.”

Lane said she feels honored to have played Pat and hopes she did the role justice.

“I hope she approves,” she said. “I have such admiration for the real woman that I play in terms of a quality I don’t have words for. Her grace under pressure. She’s well educated in the sense of she thinks before she speaks. She’s succinct, clear and quite politically adroit in terms of — well, she’s warmer than you realize under the circumstances. You see someone who is very implacable, but in fact she was quite generous when I reviewed the tapes and saw how she was putting her best self forward for her family.”

Photo: © 2011 HBO. Credit: Peter Lovino