If I think that Cinema Verite is an absolute snooze fest from beginning to end, does that mean I have been brainwashed by all the tasteless reality shows that have flooded America’s TV programming for the past decade, such as The Real World, American’s Next Top Model, Jersey Shore, and True Life? Maybe…but an exciting movie can still be made about a bunch of dull family members. There’s no excuse to make a lackluster movie about them.
Cinema Verite is an HBO movie from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (directors of the amazing American Splendor) that focuses on the making of the first American reality show, “American Family.” A huge hit in America during the early 1970s, PBS followed the lives of the Loud family – a typical-looking family on the surface but each family member, of course, having issues. We have the flirtatious, cheating father Bill Loud played by Tim Robbins, the strong suffering wife Pat Loud played by Diane Lane who wants to keep the family together, and the gay son Lance Loud played by Thomas Dekker. With all these reality shows in our face nowadays, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when real families weren’t represented on TV until the existence of the American Family show. I give credit to the show’s producer Craig Gilbert (played by James Gandolfini) who wanted to do something new for television. Rather than let Americans feed off glamorized fictional families such as The Brady Bunch or Leave it to Beaver, Gilbert was the first one to bring eleven hours worth of real family life to American TV. This idea behind Gilbert’s vision is the most interesting aspect of the whole movie, but the rest of the movie is just lifeless. Whether or not the real Louds were an interesting bunch, Cinema Verite’s story lacks conflict or even drama. As you wait for the film to get started and get into its groove, that moment never comes. While the acting by the leads is solid, there is nothing entertaining about watching Tim Robbins acting like a smirking version of himself. Even covered up in 1970s garb, Diane Lane acts like her usual self. And James Gandolfini creates a non-violent version of Tony Soprano with a beard. Besides a few editing tricks of mixing real American Family footage into the film, the direction is pretty much dull. If you are interested in 1970s nostalgia, that element fails as well, unless you like to watch actors from 2012 put on 1970s Halloween costumes.
Growing up with American TV shows of the 1980s and 1990s, I had the impression that television programming was a bit more crazy and interesting in other countries, such as Japan’s wacky game shows, South America’s shows emphasizing cleavage and derrieres, and Eastern Europe’s naked weather woman shows. I was happy with my vanilla sitcoms (The Bill Cosby Show, Married with Children, All in the Family, Who’s the Boss) and cool action shows (Knight Rider, The A-Team, The Incredible Hulk, Quantum Leap), but I don’t remember too many bizarre programs besides Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Muppets, Benny Hill, Jerry Springer, and The Howard Stern Show. Fast forward to 2012 and you’ll notice that American TV programming has not only become more bizarre, these shows are extremely demented. With programming metamorphosing into any sick combination you can think of such as America’s Next Top Porn Star, The Real High School Bullies of Delaware, Pregnant Dance Teen Moms, and I Didn’t Know I Had Plastic Surgery, I’m not sure if this is the route television should go. As mean-spirited and tasteless as most of these reality shows are, I’m not forgetting that they are still entertaining. I don’t like the majority of these reality shows but I can’t stop watching them myself. All those movies based on the public obsessed with a popular reality show, such as The Running Man, Gamer, and The Hunger Games, are not so far-fetched after all. No matter how demented and sick a reality show is, a great number of people will still watch.
The 1080p 1.78:1 video quality on this HBO Blu-ray is pretty sweet. Sharpness and detail are quite good as expected for a new film. Everything looked crisp and clean with no particular flaws. While not eye popping, colors and flesh tones looked accurately presented. More of the directors’ choice, the look of the film trying to capture a time period doesn’t totally benefit the Blu-ray since the detailed video quality reminds me more of costumes and sets rather than feeling like the real 1970s.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 is perfectly adequate. The channels and soundtrack aren’t so aggressive in Cinema Verite, but the main factor is that dialogue is extremely clear with no distortion at all.
French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 5.1 audio choices, as well as English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The best extra on this Blu-ray is the commentary with the directors and Diane Lane, which was actually much more entertaining than the film itself. And the short featurette is pretty pointless – I would have rather seen the movie’s trailer added to the special features instead.
- commentary with directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini and star Diane Lane
- The Making of Cinema Verite (3.5 minutes)
As much as I don’t like to support reality TV, I’ll give credit to a lot of these shows for still being highly entertaining. The Kardashians may seem like a talentless group of sisters, but they are entertaining ones. I suppose reality TV needs a good dose of exageration, ridiculousness, and melodramatic conflict to be so watchable week after week.
I thought HBO was invincible with their constant output of outstanding movies and shows, but a dud was bound to pop up. There is nothing really obviously bad about Cinema Verite, but everything about the film just screams blandness. Cinema Verite? Nope…more like Cinema Ennui.
The Blu-ray video and audio quality are both top-notch, but there’s really no point wasting your time watching this film unless you are a fan of the original American Family show.