Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cinema Verite Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Believing that the lives of an everyday family would be relatable to Americans in a way that existing TV shows were not, filmmakers set out to chronicle the life of the Louds, a seemingly “perfect family.” Once filming began though, the strain in the Loud’s marriage, the ups and downs of raising five children, as well as the criticism Pat Loud received for asking for a divorce and openly supporting her gay son, came sharply into focus. A complete departure from television shows of the time, An American Family gripped the nation, making the Louds a television sensation while leaving them unprepared for the consequences. In 2002, TV Guide named the documentary series one of the “Top 50 Greatest Shows of All Time.”  Fascinating and illuminating, Cinema Verite stars an amazing ensemble cast. Along with Lane, the film features Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Tim Robbins (Mystic River) and Golden Globe and Emmy winner James Gandolfini (HBO’s The Sopranos). Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini directed a script written by David Seltzer.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

Love it or hate it, but there’s no denying how popular and pervasive reality television has become.  There’s a plethora of talent show dedicated to singing or discovering some other talent or possible spouse, boot camps, and even trips to an island full of temptation that’s intentionally set up to encourage infidelity.  All of those shows owe their existence to the the very first reality show called “An American Family” which aired on PBS in 1973.  The show focused on the Loud family and chronicled their daily lives, success, and tribulations.
The man responsible for the birth of reality TV is Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) who realized that audiences would be interested in something new and unpredictable.  To achieve that, he sells the idea of a family show to Pat Loud (Diane Lane) by appealing to her ego and pride.  Pat sees herself as a pioneering feminist and Craig easily convinces to do the show her by telling her how much of a role model she will be for other progressive women.  The rest of her family is also receptive to the idea even though they are experiencing family issues that will only get worse with the spotlight on the family.
Pat’s relationship with her husband Bill (Tim Robbins) which already had issues, grows even tenser and things like Bill’s absences and philandering bothers Pat more and more.  For Bill, he is a product of an earlier time where he believes that there’s nothing wrong with having a woman or two on the side as long as he is there and provides for his family.  And provide he does, as the Loud family is living pretty well compared to a lot of others.  They have a beautiful house with a pool as well as enough disposable income that allowed them a comfortable life.  With the cameras watching the family non-stop, Bill tries to take advantage of the free publicity to help his business and his standing with his mistress by getting them an showbiz introduction to Craig.
The Loud children have their own issues, especially Lance (Thomas Dekker) who traveled to New York to learn about himself and in a sense accept the fact that he is gay.  When Pat goes to visit him she is surprised and taken aback at her son’s interest in drag shows and transvestite men.  Back home, the film crew (Patrick Fugit and Shanna Collins) have moved in with the Louds and have grown close to them over time.  Their empathy for the family ends up causing problems between them and Craig when he demands that they film raw and private moments for the sake of the show.  Craig, in his obsession to create a new and engrossing kind of show, has no problem with instigating or manufacturing issues to trigger dramatic outbursts that can be filmed (some early foreshadowing of today’s reality shows).  The family starts breaking apart before the show airs but when it does finally hit the airwaves and the family is widely criticized by the public and groups, it ironically brings the Louds back together to fight their critics and tell their side of the story.
While I dislike reality shows, I did enjoy this movie and especially the fine performances from Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, James Gandolfini, and Thomas Dekker.  This is primarily Diane Lane’s movie and she does her usual excellent job portraying Pat with all of her human flaws and qualities.  Robbins plays a likable yet sleazy man well, but it’s very similar to other roles he’s done.  It was interesting to see James Gandolfini in this kind of a role, as it’s a far cry from Tony Soprano.  His character of Craig is a charming yet manipulative man who doesn’t mean to hurt others, but if he does in the pursuit of his show, so be it.  Thomas Dekker does a great job bringing Lance to life and if you watch some of the actual footage of the real Lance, you will appreciate Dekker’s performance even more as he really captured Lance’s essence.  Cinema Verite is both a snapshot in time and prophetic in it’s depiction of reality TV and its mixture of real and manufactured drama.  While our culture has changed a lot since the 70s, sadly the reality shows have not.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

The movie’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is sharp and high quality as befits an HBO release.  Colors are well defined and captures the 70s palette accurately.  Detail is also excellent and textures are realistic and sharp.  Flesh tones are natural (most of the family sports a deep California tan) throughout the movie.  Black levels are also appropriately dark and solid.  I didn’t notice any kind of blemish or digital artifact that detracts from the transfer’s quality.  This is another quality effort from HBO!

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Cinema Verite’s DTS-HD 5.1 mix is also perfectly adequate for this kind of movie.   As a dialogue driven movie, there isn’t a whole lot for all of the channels to do as the front channels handle the dialogue.  The rear channels do come to life on ocassion when some period music is included but it’s not a very aggressive mix.  The dialogue is clear and intelligible and well balanced with the rest of the mix.

Extras (2 out of 5 stars) 

The biggest disappointment on this disc is the lack of meaningful extras.  We get a commentary track and a featurette that’s hardly worth watching and I think there should have been a lot more.  It’s even more surprising when you recall that this disc was released by HBO which usually offers a bunch of quality extras.
  • Audio Commentary – with directors Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini and Diane Lane.
  • The Making of Cinema Verite – A three and half minute featurette of the cast and crew talking about the movie.

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is an interesting movie that handles the real tribulations of a family with grace and class by intercutting the movie’s footage with actual footage of the Louds both from the “An American Family” show and their other appearances on other shows such as Dick Cavett’s show.  This movie is well acted and directed and it’s an easy one to recommend.
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