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American Families

Features

Dec 3, 2021

A baby lies in a crib and drinks from a bottle of water; a little girl, her mother, and her teddy bears enjoy a tea party; a smiling father helps his children out of the car; couples court each other in trains and in the countryside; friends play pranks on one another; men play baseball; an elderly pair walk out of their home arm in arm . . .

These are just a few of the hundreds of fragments sewn together in Alan Berliner’s The Family Album (1986), a remarkable “film collage” that consists of 16 mm home-movie footage dating from the 1920s to the 1960s. The Family Album was born out of a chance occurrence: when Berliner saw a note on a bulletin board advertising home movies for sale, he bought the lot, and then continued to add to the collection. He edited clips from the films he gathered to create a sweeping portrait of American family life from birth to death. What is striking is that although the clips that make up The Family Album come from the home movies of multiple families, Berliner pieces them together to form a cohesive and immersive narrative that is alternately humorous, touching, and melancholy—at once utterly familiar and not.

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