‘Television ate my family.’ Lance Loud
In 1973, An American Family was the most controversial and talked-about television programme of its era. Anticipating the current deluge of ‘reality TV’ programming by three decades, producer Craig Gilbert’s innovative series is a landmark of non-fiction film made in the style of cinema vérité. It marks a critical moment in postwar American culture.
Drawing on numerous precedents in observational filmmaking – from Frederick Wiseman and Jean Rouch to Andy Warhol – the programme chronicles seven months in the lives of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. The Louds were selected as an emblematic nuclear family pulled apart by the cultural shifts that marked America’s transition into the 1970s. Filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond captured 300 hours of film that were edited to 12 one-hour episodes aired weekly on PBS.
From the first broadcast on 11 January 1973, the series quickly became a national media event viewed by an audience of 10 million people. The ensuing depictions of divorce, West Coast affluence, and open homosexuality provoked a fervent public debate about the nation’s value system, its attitudes towards family and sexuality, and about television’s role in depicting and constructing the American character.
An American Family was among the first television series to transform ‘ordinary people’ into media celebrities. During the series’s second episode, Lance Loud, who had left Santa Barbara to pursue a more bohemian life in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel, became arguably the first openly gay man on American television. His richly comic, tragic life spoke volumes about popular culture, sexuality, fame and family life during a transitional period in which the camera came to dominate our daily lives.
On 22 December 2001, aged 50, Loud died of liver failure caused by hepatitis C and HIV co-infection. Having lived his youth onscreen in living rooms across America, several months before his death Loud asked Alan and Susan Raymond to film one final episode in the Loud story. The resulting documentary, Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family, commemorates the 30th anniversary of the original broadcast and explores Loud's legacy, revisiting the original series and examining the intervening years of Loud's life leading up to his final months. Near the end of his life Loud wrote: ‘Make no mistake. This is not to emphasize the sadness of my demise but rather emphasise the love of my family and friends.’
This evening, presented by The Hepatitis C Trust and Tate Modern, celebrates the life of television and underground icon Lance Loud to raise awareness about HIV and hepatitis C co-infection, of which Loud died. The screening of An American Family, episode 2 (1973, 60 min) and Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family (2003, 60 min) will be followed by a discussion with filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond.