An American Family
12 Hour screening of the first reality tv series
‘Television ate my family.’ –Lance Loud
Anticipating the current deluge of ‘reality TV’ programming by three decades, producer Craig Gilbert’s innovative 1973 television series, An American Family, is a landmark of nonfiction film and marks a critical moment in postwar American culture. Drawing on numerous precedents in observational filmmaking—from Frederick Wiseman and Jean Rouch to Andy Warhol—the programme chronicles seven months in the lives of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California.
The Louds were selected as an emblematic nuclear family pulled apart by the cultural shifts that marked America’s transition into the 1970s. Filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond captured 300 hours of film that were edited to twelve one-hour episodes aired weekly on PBS.
From the first broadcast on 11 January 1973, the series quickly became a national media event viewed by millions. The ensuing depictions of divorce, West Coast affluence, and open homosexuality provoked a fervent public debate about the nation’s value system, its attitudes towards family and sexuality, and about television’s role in depicting and constructing the American character. An American Family was among the first television series to transform ‘ordinary people’ into media celebrities.
While many public intellectuals condemned the series, it fascinated several prominent artists and academics, such as Dan Graham, John Cage, and anthropologist Margaret Mead, who claimed in a 1973 issue of TV Guide:
‘In An American Family nobody knew what was going to happen. The result is certainly not fiction, nor is it the conventional TV documentary… It is a new kind of art form. It is, I believe, as new and as significant as the invention of drama or the novel—a new way in which people can learn to look at life by seeing the real life of others interpreted by the camera.’
Almost never before seen in Europe, the entire series will be shown at Casco in one continuous twelve hour screening from 12pm-12am on Saturday 11 February 2006, introduced by filmmaker Susan Raymond at 6pm.
Susan Raymond will also participate in a discussion at CASCO with Stuart Comer (Curator of Film at Tate Modern) and Eggo Müller (Assistant Professor in Television Studies, Utrecht University) on Sunday 12 February at 4pm. The discussion will be followed by screenings of two subsequent documentaries that continue the story of the Loud family: An American Family Revisited: The Louds Ten Years Later (1983) and Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family (2003). The latter documentary focuses on the late Lance Loud, flamboyant son; friend and fan of Andy Warhol; member of popular New York No Wave band The Mumps; prominent journalist; and the first openly gay person to appear on television.
Conceived by Stuart Comer, organized in collaboration with Casco and Kunstverein Munich.