Monday, March 4, 2013

Daddy Dearest and his all-American musical kids--FAMILY BAND: THE COWSILLS STORY

You never really know, do you? The family of musical wonders from the 1960s known as The Cowsills --  upon whom the hit TV show The Partridge Family was more-or-less based and who many members of my gener-ation imagined to be a goody-two-shoes band that would maybe take up the mantle of Lawrence Welk -- were actually leading, except for the music that probably saved them, a life of hell-on-earth. This was due, as we quickly discover from the new documentary FAMILY BAND: THE COWSILLS STORY, to their wretched father, Bud Cowsill, a man who should never have had children or, in fact, have married, or, let's just say it, have been born.

If it sounds like I may be exaggerating a bit, wait. As this sad and surprising docu-mentary unfolds, you, too, will come to loathe the actions and behavior of this "Daddy Dearest." While the film seems to have been mostly made at the behest of one of Bud's sons, Bob Cowsill, who, like many of the family members, is still singing and playing his heart out, it appears, according to the press kit on the film, that it was instead the director, Louise Palanker (above), who was a childhood fan of the group, who sought out Bob and then the rest of the family with the request to make a documentary about them. We're glad she did.

TrustMovies doesn't think that the much-used term schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others), though it often does apply to how we look at and feel about celebrities, works very well with this particular family. After watching Family Band, you can only want the best for this crew. Listening to their music now, in their adulthood, may make you, as it did me, feel that we misjudged the group, and that they were a hell of a lot better at what they did than many of us were willing to admit at the time. That's they, above (in the early days, with mother Barbara just right of center) and below, more currently.

The Cowsills' mom and dad, one of their progeny explains early on, "were kids having kids." They married young, and whenever Bud, who was in the military and away much of the year, would return, mom would get pregnant and drop another baby until there were seven children in all. They evidently got their musical talent from mom's side; dad was the driving force behind their success -- and unfortunately also behind their too-early destruction as a group.

The story of how a quartet of the kids hoped to maybe become the new Beatles -- and then were joined by another brother and (much to their horror) by their mom, then finally by their little sister -- is quite a tale. How and why one brother was kept from joining the band and forced into the military is another such -- one that haunts the movie and the family members throughout.

There is plenty of wonderful footage of the early days (appearances on Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and the like), a few talking heads (such as mom Partridge -- Shirley Jones, above -- and music folk who helped the kids along, until Dad always got in the way), and reminiscences by the band members (and other family members, some of them quite funny). There are also a number of surprises (you might even call them shocks) along the way; the less said about them, the better, so as not to ruin your movie experience.

Finally -- and despite the experience of growing up with a dreadful dad (at far right, below) and a mom who constantly looked the other way, and even though, as they tell us now, after all that early success, these kids nonetheless began their adult life in debt -- the movie is a hopeful one. This group did love music. And, damn, but they were (and still are) good at it!

Family Band: The Cowsills Story, running just under 90 minutes, has been picked up by Showtime and will make its premiere on the cable network this Wednesday, March 6.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review; pretty much covers everything. The documentary left my husband and I wanting to know MUCH MORE! Ms. Palankar should write a book now.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Anon. Happy to hear that both of you enjoyed this doc. And, yes indeed: a book would be even MORE helpful!