Over the weekend PBS used the premiere of Cinema Verite, an HBO drama about the making of the '70s documentary series An American Family, as an occasion to re-run the original series as a 12-hour marathon. Make that a grueling 12-hour marathon.
And the fact that they would air the marathon starting at 11pm Saturday night and concluding at 11am Sunday morning makes me wonder if PBS really wanted anyone to watch it. The slowly paced one-hour episodes strung back-to-back are hardly TV's version of a can of Red Bull.
"An American Family" is of particular interest to those of us here in Santa Barbara because the family of Bill and Pat Loud, whom it was about, lived here in Santa Barbara and the documentary was filmed almost entirely here.
I never saw the series when it originally aired in 1973. I was a senior at UCLA then and college students in those days were more likely to gather around the TV to watch "All My Children" then they were to watch anything on PBS.
The series was actually filmed over seven months during 1971 and, given the faced-paced editing of most of today's TV faire, shows its age. Conversations between people go on forever complete with long periods of silence. In nearly every scene in which she appears Pat Loud always has a cigarette going. An American Family is thought to be the original reality TV show. After seeing it I understand why the genre quickly disappeared and didn't resurface until nearly 20 years later when MTV's "The Real World" debuted.
I've probably become too accustomed to current TV production values because the only thing out of the snippets that I caught (no I didn't stay up to watch the whole thing nor did I postpone going out to get my morning coffee to finish watching when I woke up the next morning) that made it mildly interesting were the local references.
The family lived on Woodale Lane which is located behind the Rivera and above Sheffield Reservoir. When Bill Loud moves out of the family home (his wife asked him for a divorce while the documentary cameras rolled) he took a room at the Lemon Tree Motel. Later he would move to a place at the Park Cabrillo apartments which is now El Escorial at East Beach. I actually lived there for several years myself in the early 80's when it was known as Kingswood Village. I got a kick out of seeing that Bill Loud had the same one-bedroom floor plan that I did. When he went shopping for dishes and kitchen utensils for his new place he is shown browsing the aisles of Ott's department store then located at 727 State Street, which now is right smack in the middle of Paseo Nuevo.
After returning from a trip to the East Coast Bill Loud, in a phone conservation with a friend, is heard comparing East Hampton to Montecito and Hope Ranch.
Santa Barbara High School is shown as some of the Loud children sign up for classes on the first day of school.
I'd be interested to know how well the repeat of the series in marathon form did in the ratings because I found the slow pacing of each episode to be tedious. I know it's not fair because the series was never intended to be seen in this form, but showing it as a marathon puts it into the same category as two other theatrical movies of that era, meaning it was longer than The Sorrow and the Pity and every bit as excruciating as The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.
As far as I can tell, although Bill and Pat Loud no longer live in this area both are still alive (they are well into their 80s now). Their children, with the exception of Lance who died in 2001 at 50 from complications from AIDS, are also still living. Hard to believe that nearly 35 years later, the documentary about their lives here in Santa Barbara still lives on. Even if you have to be a night owl to catch it.
© 2011 by Craig Smith and www.craigsmithsblog.com