Your family is in here. So is mine. We’re all in here.
Dir. Alan Berliner, 1988, 60 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant
Why have I never heard of this movie? How could Netflix have never recommended this to me? Where has The Family Album been all my life? It is a critical injustice that this documentary is not more widely known, because it’s an all-timer, unquestionably. It’s small and huge at the same time, intimate and universal, an astonishing work of art that struck me on a deeply personal level.
There is nothing usual about this movie. It is essentially the world’s most expansive photo album. It’s formed of scores if not hundreds of clips from various home movies, taken between the 20’s and 60’s. A vast mosaic of experience, these myriad families are all combined into one family. This film tells one story, but with many people. It is the story of all families. Meetings. Love. Births. Trials and tribulations. Emptying nests. Expansions. Death. And the cycle beginning all over again. On the soundtrack are various personal histories, as well as recordings of get-togethers and everyday life.
Nothing about this movie really makes sense. Everything we see and hear is out of context. We get brief snippets of much greater lives. But all these moments form a coherent string of events. This doc is a miracle of editing, taking what must have been thousands of hours of footage and piecing together the exact right moments to go into the exact right times. They aren’t logical, but they strike a chord deep within you, as you recognize what you’ve seen in your own life, with your own family.
This movie is one theme, one note played over and over, at slightly different octaves each time, and the result is something harmonious and wondrous. Most people on Earth who watch this will find it incredibly intimate. It’s warm and quiet and incredibly resonant as a result. I feel like I could say more about it, so much more, and yet I find myself at a loss at the moment. It needs time to sink in, but I recognize the brilliance that’s here. The Family Album is a buried gem if there ever was one.