In October 2001 we received a phone call from Lance Loud informing us that he had entered the Carl Bean Hospice in Los Angeles. As Lance's friends for over thirty years, we were aware that he had been diagnosed as HIV positive for many years. But now Lance was telling us that he was facing a terminal HIV/Hepatitis C co-infection illness. He shared with us the many thoughts racing through his mind at such a serious time and asked for us to come out to California and make a "final episode" of An American Family. We simply could not refuse our friend's request.
WHY DO YOU THINK LANCE WANTED TO MAKE ANOTHER FILM?
Lance wrote us a letter detailing his request and stating his reasons why. The following are excerpts from that letter:
WHAT WAS THE FAMILY'S REACTION TO MAKING ANOTHER FILM?
When Lance announced his plans for us to possibly commence production on yet another documentary about him and his family, the Louds went into a total state of disbelief. The family had shunned all public attention in recent years and did not readily welcome returning to television. Patiently but with complete determination, Lance convinced everyone to participate as a last request to him. With the exception of Grant Loud, his younger brother, the family willingly and lovingly participated in making this one-hour video memoir of Lance Loud, his life and legacy.
WHY IS LANCE AN IMPORTANT FIGURE?
Lance Loud was an incredibly important cultural signifier, the first real gay person to appear on television as an integral member of American family life. He impressed himself on a nation's generation of young people as not only openly gay but also as a free spirit seeking to live his life on his own terms. According to TV Guide, ten million viewers weekly watched An American Family, thereby making Lance the first reality TV star as well.
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THIS JANUARY AIR DATE?
Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family will appear on PBS Monday, January 6, 2003 at 9 PM. The broadcast will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the PBS documentary series An American Family, which premiered January 13, 1973. The original was a 12-hour cinema vérité documentary series about the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. Viewed by a weekly TV audience of 10 million people, the series followed the unfolding story of one real family's life. TV Guide recently acknowledged An American Family as the original reality TV series and included it in their 50 Greatest TV Programs. PBS has chosen this new film about the life and death of Lance Loud, followed by a rebroadcast of Episode #2 of An American Family to honor the PBS legacy of the series and commemorate the anniversary.
Episode #2 of An American Family chronicles Pat Loud's visit to see her eldest son Lance who had recently moved to New York City. Lance gives his mother a whirlwind tour of his new world in New Yorkfrom an opening of an Andy Warhol retrospective at The Whitney Museum of Art to downtown clubs featuring transvestites Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling in a performance of Vain Victory. Pat and Lance discuss his future life plan and Pat calmly remarks, "He's found himself here."
This hour features Lance at age 19 and his new world in Manhattan. After spending his teenage years in the suburbs of Santa Barbara, Lance dares to seek out his dreams in the big city. He moves into the Chelsea Hotel and fantasizes that he is living in an Andy Warhol movie.
This is the episode that shocked and electrified the 1973 American TV audience as Lance makes no secret of his homosexual lifestyle. More importantly, Lance imprinted onto a new generation a model of a gay youth who dared to live his life on his own terms. This episode forever changed the lives of millions of American teenagers and made Lance the first American gay icon—a cataclysmic event that forever changed his life.
WHY DID YOU MAKE THIS FILM?
We were asked to make this film by Lance as his dying wish. It was a request we could not refuse. It's very hard to explain our deep relationship with Lance other than to say that he trusted us, he felt comfortable confiding in us his innermost thoughts and he needed to talk at length on camera about what he thought he had done with his life, both positive and negative.
We were friends with Lance for more than thirty years as we filmed the original PBS series in 1971 and first met Lance when he was nineteen years old. The episode set in New York City at the Chelsea Hotel was actually the first week's filming of the series before we departed for seven months to Santa Barbara. The experience of filming An American Family became a bonding experience between the Louds and ourselves and has lasted all these years. We even produced American Family Revisited for HBO in 1983 as a ten-year update of the family. We believe this long-term filmmaker-subject relationship may be a unique phenomenon in documentary television programming.
WAS IT DIFFICULT TO MAKE THIS FILM?
This film is proving to be among the most difficult we have ever made. To document the final days of a close friend is a very complex endeavor. On the one hand, you are working in an emotionally charged situation in which your personal feelings often overwhelm you. On the other hand, you try to be professional, making a concerted effort to realize the film Lance envisioned. It is a very difficult process and unique in our filmmaking experience.
We are also very sensitive to the family's complex feelings about participating in another film portrait. We have seriously questioned putting the Louds through another examination of their lives. But Lance wanted this film made. He got us all back together one more time because he felt there was an important message to communicate at the end of his life.
Lance was unique. He was a charmingly incorrigible friend, a landmark in American culture who inspired countless young people to change their lives, a reluctant gay icon, an aesthete with impeccable style, and a celebrity for just being himself. As documentary filmmakers and friends for over 30 years, this may be the best way for us to say goodbye to Lance.
Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family is a presentation of WETA and ITVS, and was made possible
by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service.