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Reality TV dawns in HBO’s ‘Cinema Verite’

VERITE’ ★★★½

8 to 10 p.m. Saturday
on HBO

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

It’s a fancy name for a movie about reality TV, but back in 1973 when the Loud family appeared on PBS, it was considered documentary. Art.

Now, after 25 seasons of “The Real World,” we have a different name for it: exploitation.

“Cinema Verite,” debuting Saturday on HBO, is a fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at the seven months and 300 hours of film that became the groundbreaking series “An American Family.”

Producer Craig Gilbert is played by James Gandolfini in the movie, and he insists that his work is cultural anthropology. That may be, but there’s no denying that the result was awfully sensationalist: Onscreen, Pat Loud asked her husband to move out, and America met TV’s first colorfully gay man, oldest son Lance Loud.

The movie mixes in actual clips of the original series, with Diane Lane and Tim Robbins re-enacting some scenes and inventing others.

Did Gilbert cross ethical lines? Did he egg on the action by telling Pat her husband was cheating? Did he have an affair with her himself?

I still don’t know. Neither the Louds nor Gilbert cooperated with this project, although the married production team consulted.

Today’s reality stars know what they’re getting into, but the Loud family never saw it coming. At the end, “Cinema Verite” shows how the Louds dealt with the notoriety after the series aired, and where they are now.

“Cinema Verite” blurs the lines even more — but there’s a perverse logic to that.

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