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Family Viewing

Family Viewing

Year: 1987
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 86 min
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Atom Egoyan
Cinematographer: Robert Macdonald, Peter Mettler
Editor: Bruce McDonald, Atom Egoyan
Sound: Ross Redfern
Music: Mychael Danna
Cast: David Hemblen, Jeanne Sabourin, Selma Keklikian, Gabrielle Rose, Aidan Tierney, Arsinée Khanjian
Production Company: Ego Film Arts

Atom Egoyan’s second feature, the dark and disturbing – but persistently witty – Family Viewing, resumed the concerns established with his first feature Next of Kin (1984): his fascinations with video, ethnicity and family dysfunction. The story centers on Van (Tierney), a well-kept but malcontented youth, who lives with his father (Hemblen) and stepmother (Rose) in a comfortable but sterile apartment. Amidst his high-tech surroundings, Van feels increasingly alienated from his father and drawn to his maternal grandmother who is ill and living in a nursing home.

Van’s estrangement from his father is deepened by the undue sexual interest his stepmother takes in him, and the rupture becomes complete when Van discovers that his father is recording homemade sex tapes over the videos of his childhood – the happy times when he was together with his grandmother and his parents. With the daughter of one of the nursing home residents, Van schemes to get his grand­ma out of the home and into his care, away from his father. Meanwhile, Van’s father has hired a private detective to spy on his son — just one instance where a relationship is negotiated electronically.

A complex and allusive film, Family Viewing was bleaker and more ironic in its perspective than the wry, funny Next of Kin. The use of video images (on television, monitors, home videos) and different shooting styles provided an effective counterpoint to the dysfunctional, disintegrating family relationships. Egoyan described his approach in an interview with Ron Burnett published in Film Views in 1988: “I think [family] is a great starting point because you are able to deal with the central archetypes in our society. They can be reduced to Father figure, Mother figure, figure of the Child, the figure of one generation against another generation. That ties in so neatly with the generational textures I was trying to use in Family Viewing, … different generations of video image, film stock, and so on.”

Family Viewing is a key example of Egoyan’s early work: the depiction of a chilly, hermetic world in which intense emotions are bottled up and human interaction is mediated by images.