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23 APRIL 2012

An American Family: the genesis of reality television

"Unlike most documentaries of its day, An American Family had no host, no interviews, and almost no voice–over narration. Producer Craig Gilbert presented the family's daily life – as captured by filmmakers Alan Raymond behind the camera, and Susan Raymond covering sound – in the style of cinéma vérité. It was the most controversial and talked–about television program of its era.

PBS was then a fledgling 'fourth network' joining CBS, NBC and ABC, and despite its non–commercial profile was looking for blockbuster hits, according to Bill Kobin, Vice President for programming at NET at the time. In the course of its 12 week run, An American Family riveted the country and drew in a record 10 million viewers a week. In the years since it was first broadcast, the series has become the subject of lengthy articles and reviews, including panel discussions with anthropologist Margaret Mead, who speculated that An American Family could be the beginning of a new way to explore the complexities of contemporary reality, 'maybe as important for our time as were the invention of drama and the novel for earlier generations.'

Now, 40 years since filming, the original filmmakers have edited a new 2–hour feature–length special capturing the most memorable and compelling moments of the landmark series. See for yourself why An American Family is one of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time (TV Guide, 2002)."

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

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TAGS

197119721973 • Alan Raymond • American family lifeAn American Family • Bill Kobin • Bill Loud • cinema verite • contemporary reality • Craig Gilbert • cultural anthropologydaily life • Delilah Loud • direct cinemadocumentaryethnographic filmfamilyfamily lifefly-on-the-wall • Grant Loud • Kevin Loud • Lance Loud • landmark series • Loud family • Margaret Mead • Michele Loud • non-commercialnon-fiction televisionNorth Americaobservational seriesobservational style • Pat Loud • PBSportrait of a familyportrait of family lifereal behaviourrealityreality televisionsocial reality • Susan Raymond • televisiontelevision documentarytelevision programmetelevision series • The Louds • The Raymonds • TV • video verite • visual anthropology • WNET

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
21 APRIL 2012

The Family: warts-and-all portrait of working-class 1970s Britain

"Modelled on the 13–part observational series, An American Family (US, d. Craig Gilbert, 1972), producer Paul Watson's 12–part The Family (BBC, 1974) is credited with creating the concept of the 'fly–on–the–wall' documentary in Britain. Regardless, Watson's cinema verité–style, warts–and–all portrait of the working–class Wilkins family certainly popularised an 'observational' style still seen as the defining characteristic of British documentary some twenty–five years later.

The Family follows the daily lives of Terry and Margaret Wilkins, their children and their partners, as they all struggle to live together in a small flat in Reading. The series sets out to reveal to viewers the reality of family life in Britain as never shown before. "No TV family ever has dirty pots and pans," says Margaret in episode one, and the Wilkins demonstrate a remarkable candour in their on–camera conversations with one another.

Watson and his small crew spent two months with the Wilkins prior to filming. After this the team filmed the family eighteen hours a day for three months. The result was an extraordinary portrait of family life: honest, hilarious and painful, an instant classic the impact and influence of which (on both fiction and non–fiction television) it would be difficult to overestimate.

The Family divided critics and viewers alike, and the Wilkins were villified by the tabloid press for all manner of imagined transgressions: their 'acting' for the camera or their 'real' behaviour in front of it, their use of bad language and public airing of previously taboo subjects. Watson explained that he "wanted to make a film about the kind of people who never got on to television," and clearly the sight of a powerful and opinionated woman like Margaret Wilkins, or the challenge of daughter Heather to the casual racism of 1970s middle–England, was shocking to a certain section of the British public (Mary Whitehouse was among those who called for the series to be banned, lest this 'representative' family be seen as a model to imitate)."

(Joe Sieder, BFI Screenonline)

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TAGS

1970s1974 • acting for the camera • An American FamilyBBCBritainBritish documentary • candour • casual racismcinema veritecultural signalsdirect cinemadocumentaryfamilyfamily lifefly-on-the-wallFranc Roddam • honest • Margaret Wilkins • Mary Whitehouse • non-fiction televisionobservational seriesobservational style • on-camera conversations • Paul Watsonportraitportrait of a familyportrait of family life • Reading (city) • real behaviourreality television • small flat • social changesocial classsocial constructionismsocial realitysocial stratificationsocietysocio-economictaboo subjectstelevisiontelevision documentarytelevision series • Terry Wilkins • The FamilyThe Family (television)TVUK • warts-and-all • working class

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
20 APRIL 2012

The amateur video which sparked the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest

"in March 1991, television screens across the world broadcast [George Holliday's] videotaped footage of LAPD officers raining down 56 baton blows on an African American named Rodney King. ... on April 29, 1992, a jury in Simi Valley, one of the whitest exurbs of Los Angeles, acquitted three of the four officers involved in beating Rodney King. The response in South Los Angeles was loud and immediate: That night, thousands of residents, black and Latino, took to the streets, starting a four–day riot that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, injured 2,500 people, killed 58, and resulted in $1 billion in damage and 16,000 arrests."

(Josh Sides, 19/04/2012, Design Observer)

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TAGS

19911992 • 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest • acquitted • African Americanamateuramateur cameraamateur videoarsonassault • baton • beating • brutalitybystandercitiescitizen journalismcivic engagementcivil disobediencecivil libertiescivil rights • civil unrest • damageethics • exurb • eyewitnessforce of law • George Holliday • high-speed pursuit • Hispanic • injusticejustice • LAPD • Latasha Harlins • Latino • looting • Los Angeles • Los Angeles Police Department • Los Angeles Riots • manslaughter • motoristmurderpolicepolice brutality • police officer • povertypower corrupts • property damages • real behaviourriot • rioted • riots • Rodney King • self-control • Simi Valley • social differentiationsocial responsibility • South Central Riots • suffering injustice • television report • unethical behaviourunjustunjust powervideotapedvideotaped footage

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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