I haven't seen either An American Family (I don't recall why I didn't
watch any of it when it was on PBS years ago) or The Real World (which
I don't think any Canadian broadcaster has picked up), though I have an
idea of both. Interestingly, there are precedents for both in the work
of Canadian filmmaker Allan King.
After Warrendale, his famous (and notorious, since it was suppressed by
the CBC, which had financed it) direct cinema documentary on a centre for
emotionally disturbed kids, he made A Married Couple, probably his most
famous film. For that project, he arranged to film a Toronto couple (and
their son and their dog) for some length of time, and then edited the
hours of footage that resulted down to a feature-length film that showed
quite widely. Alan Rosenthal interviewed King, along with his cinemato-
grapher Richard Leiterman and editor Arla Saare, and included their
discussions as a dossier on A Married Couple in his book, The New
Documentary in Action. There are obviously correspondences between
King's project and the series on the Louds.
The feature that King made after A Married Couple, however, which relates
to The Real World, is less well-known. Come On Children (as in the chorus
of Bob Dylan's "Percy's Song") documents and forms part of something of a
social experiment. For the purposes of the film, King created something of
a commune. He selected a group of young people -- all strangers to each
other, I believe -- and installed them in a rural house, planning to
film whatever ensued. Well, teenagers being what they were like in the
early 1970s (having been one at that time myself, I write with at least
a little authority), they didn't prove as conventionally dramatic as the
Edwardses of A Married Couple had. I'm not sure of the details, but Come
On Children, which was completed in 1972, barely circulated at all. In
retrospect, and perhaps predictably, it's an interesting film, though
as much for the question of documentary ethics and practices as for any-
thing having to do with the purported subject of youth culture and the
utopian goals of the counterculture.
As a sidebar, because this doesn't have as much to do directly with The
Real World, King returned to a variation on this method some ten years
later for a video production titled Who's In Charge? He convened a
conference of unemployed people and several professional "consultants,"
and recorded the discussion that followed in different types of group
sessions. Presumed to be a program about unemployment and the unemployed,
it was at least as much about the interaction of people working in groups
and the power relations involved in such a process.
We set up a study collection of King's films and television programs. (I
hasten to add that our holdings don't circulate, though they're available
for consultation.) Allan has made noises over the past couple of years
about making films like Warrendale and A Married Couple (which made his
reputation, even though they haven't made his income for many years)
available on video, though I haven't heard anything lately on the matter.
Blaine Allan [log in to unmask]
Canada K7L 3N6