This evening at 92Y Tribeca, J Hoberman will be introducing a screening of Anthony Mann's Reign of Terror (1949, also known as The Black Book) and signing copies of his new book, An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War. For Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith writes that "Hoberman's particular interest here is the cinema that captured and often prodded the pathologies of the day: reactionary exposés of the lurking Red Menace, crypto-socialist satires and sympathetic docudramas, and those scads of B-grade Cold War allegories presented in the genre guise of science fiction, the biblical epic, the western. With a cast of characters including G-men, fact-finders, space invaders, coonskin kids, Christian soldiers, and 'white negroes,' and with cameos from the likes of Ronald Reagan, Nick Ray, Orson Welles, and Joe McCarthy, it's a densely detailed, near-hallucinatory history, irradiated with Hoberman's inimitable, vibrant prose." And he talks with the critic and author about "postwar Hollywood historiography, film criticism doomsday musings, and the underappreciated insights of beleaguered New York Times critic Bosley Crowther."
The documentary series An American Family (1973) was "a social experiment that unintentionally spawned the entire genre of reality television and challenged ideas about what the average family was supposed to be," writes Melissa Maerz in the Los Angeles Times. "Originally intended as an ordinary look at the Louds, a Santa Barbara couple with five teenagers who allowed a film crew into their home for seven months, the series ignited so many controversies about the breakdown of the nuclear family and the ethics of documentary filmmaking that PBS has been reluctant to rebroadcast it. Though 10 million people watched the original series, making it one of the biggest hits in public broadcasting history, An American Family has never been released on DVD or video." It will, though, begin airing again tonight on some PBS stations. "Nearly 40 years after the series first premiered, HBO is retelling the Louds' story with Cinema Verite, a film directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the husband-wife team that made the Harvey Pekar biopic American Splendor. Mixing archival footage with restaged scenes starring Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini, the film focuses on the series' most discussed scene: Pat Loud asking her husband, Bill, to move out, right in front of the camera. In that moment, the old American dream might have died, but a new American dream took its place: the one where you can be famous just for being yourself."
Berman and Pulcini "wrap a media-studies lesson and a standard domestic drama in a self-aware nostalgia trip," writes Troy Patterson in Slate. "The vintage light of Affonso Beato's cinematography (producing sunglow yellow in California and glam grim blue in John Lindsay's New York) helps set a mood of nostalgia for nostalgia, a yearning for youthful earnestness. And between Cinema Verite's fond attention to period detail and the way that documentary-maker Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) twinkles and sulks at homemaker Pat Loud (Diane Lane), you can get the feeling that you're watching a hybrid of The Ice Storm and the opening pages of The Journalist and the Murderer."
For the New Yorker, Laurie Winer talks with the real Craig Gilbert, now 85. He "never worked again after An American Family aired, and he has spent the years since then trying to avoid the notoriety that came with his creation." Both he and Pat Loud once again deny that they ever had an affair; then Winer turns to "another behind-the-scenes drama, between Gilbert and a married couple who worked on the series with him, Alan and Susan Raymond. Gilbert hired them to film and record sound for An American Family. But the Raymonds balked at capturing several of the series' rawest moments." Cinema Verite depicts Gilbert and Alan Raymond coming to blows over one incident. "When asked to comment on this scene, Alan Raymond said, 'I did push him. I should have punched him.' Susan Raymond claims that Gilbert had a 'Svengali hold' on Pat Loud, and said, 'Craig destroyed that family.' Looking back, Gilbert blames the Raymonds for not being willing to observe the first rule of the form: never stop filming. 'What did they think cinéma vérité is?' Gilbert said. 'You shoot only certain things?'"
More on Cinema Verite, airing tonight, from Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist), Alessandra Stanley (New York Times) and Jonathan Storm (Philadelphia Inquirer). Updates, 4/24: A B- from Phil Nugent at the AV Club: "Cinema Verite isn't painful to watch, but it softens and simplifies its subject enough to be really disappointing, settling for one more fashion show from the 70s. (The best movie about An American Family is likely to remain Albert Brooks's 1979 comedy, Real Life, which is based on the premise that trying to capture shaggy, unscripted, pure reality on film is maybe not the best pursuit for a control freak.) Gilbert's approach had condescension built into it, but Berman and Pulcini's view of the Louds as the defenseless people that TV ate is condescending in its own right." 2.5 out of four from Rob Humanick in Slant: "Conspicuously shortchanged is the story of the Louds' son Lance (Thomas Dekker), whose national coming out is never acknowledged beyond a general air of understanding. By itself, such casual acceptance encapsulates the qualities that made the Louds such a progressive cultural element, but Cinema Verite primes you for the sting of inevitable controversy only to skip the beat. In this way, the film streamlines the collective story, pushing enough secondary characters to the sidelines to create a convenient almost-romantic triangle."
Update, 4/25: "The directors and the screenwriter, David Seltzer, brilliantly blend archival footage with their dramatizations," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "[I]n the process, they tease out some fascinating notions regarding the very nature of documentary filmmaking and show both why the original program had such an impact back then and which kinds of great changes in society this seminal broadcast may well have sparked. The underlying subject of the film is media-consciousness itself, and Cinema Verite both reveals a moment of transition and belongs to a world in which that very consciousness risks diffusing the influence of actual decision-makers, which, here, the filmmakers restore with an ironic twist."
Sci-Fi-London opens today and runs through May 2. For the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, "the high point could turn out to be the documentary Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of Dark Star, by Daniel Griffith, which is being shown on Saturday [April 30]. Appropriately for its subject matter, this documentary looks a little bit cheap and cheerful sometimes, but for anyone who loves John Carpenter's 1974 cult classic it really is gripping."
Criterion notes that Ronald Neame would have been 100 today and that "British Academy of Film and Television Los Angeles will honor the director-producer-screenwriter-cinematographer with a special centenary tribute at the DGA screening room, which will include a showing of a new documentary about Neame, narrated by Stephen Fry. A friend of the Criterion Collection, Neame was remembered by producer Karen Stetler in a personal Current post from last July (it also features a clip of Neame talking about The Horse's Mouth)."
IN OTHER NEWS
"Kevin Jarre, a screenwriter steeped in American history who wrote the Civil War saga Glory and the western Tombstone, died unexpectedly of heart failure April 3 at his Santa Monica home," reports Valerie J Nelson in the LAT. "He was 56."
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