A little known fact about me is that I'm a huge fan of The Brady Bunch. I am a bit too young to have watched it when it aired on Prime Time but let me tell you, I watched it repeatedly in syndication throughout my entire childhood. I have also watched it as an adult when I shared it with my children as they were growing up. Although some of the themes and ideas may seem quaint today, there remains within some great life lessons and morals-of-the-story. At times poignant and delightfully cheesy, The Brady Bunch exemplifies the best and worst about what it means to be a family.
One of my favorite bands is The National. If you've followed this page with any regularity, you've probably seen me feature them before. One thing I haven't touched on before is the fact that along with frontman Matt Berninger, the rest of the band is comprised of two sets of brothers. Twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner both play guitar, piano, and keyboards while Scott and Bryan Devendorf play bass and drums, respectively. Aaron Dessner has also carved out successful side gig as a writer and producer for artists including Sharon Van Etten and Taylor Swift. Additionally, and in keeping with the family affair theme, Matt Berninger's brother Tom is a filmmaker and he made a movie about The National called Mistaken for Strangers.
Lastly, there's The Secret Sisters. Made up of sisters Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle, The Secret Sisters hail from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and are a part of the Muscle Shoals sound. Their music is full of harmonizing, classic Country themes and flourishes, and is a delight to listen to.
It's a Family Affair with these hilarious families, but let's take a closer look at what else Dad has been up to:
Superstar Eugenio Derbez plays Ludovico the Dad in La Familia P. Luche.
It appears Ludovico is also an expert Latin Lover.
Reginald Veljohnson also plays the Dad, Carl, in Family Matters.
Carl the cop is Al the cop in Die Hard.
George Lopez is the Dad in George Lopez and is an Original Latin King of Comedy, while Clyde Kusatsu plays the papa in All-American Girl, but is Commander Watanabe in Midway!
Musical talent often gets passed down from generation to generation in families, like with Rosanne Cash, Natalie Cole, and Norah Jones, all solid musical artists who were or are children of other great musicians. And, sometimes, those musical children also make music for children and their families. You can continue the musical legacy by checking out these albums and sharing them with your family: Go Waggaloo by Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of Arlo Guthrie who's the son of Woody Guthrie, and Family Time by Ziggy Marley, son of Bob Marley.
A list of family films I’ve enjoyed
Whatever Works has been one of my favorite movies for a while for its unusual story and unlikely happy ending.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells of the unlikely bond between a teen and his foster uncle, and their quest to remain a family. Also on Kanopy.
The Farewell is critically acclaimed story of a family reuniting without telling their grandmother the truth of why they’re visiting.
Also available on Kanopy.
Family of Us is a short PBS documentary about families, whether related or chosen.
The Joneses is a family story anchored by a transgender grandmother.
Hippie Family Values - filmed over 10 years, an in depth look at the members of a family living on a hippie commune and their individual struggles with balancing family life with the wider world.
In Exile tells the stories of families affected by the Spanish Civil war in the early 20th century.
This week’s theme falls under the umbrella of family relationships. Some comedic films that immediately come to mind are the classic Home Alone movies, which are a personal favorite around the holidays. Not only does the original film examine the complex, albeit fictitious, family relationships between a young boy and his distracted family members, but the film also employs the real-life Culkin brothers, Macaulay and Kieran. Needless to say, family is a central theme to this film; if you haven’t seen it yet please move this movie to the top of your queue!
On the musical front, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan is, arguably, the world’s most distinguished mariachi in the world with a historical legacy spanning 125 years! The group was founded in 1897 by Gaspar Vargas and then later managed by his son, Silvestre Vargas, as it matured into a cultural symbol to people of Mexican descent. The group has recorded music in a variety of styles and those interested in joining must demonstrate a high caliber of musicianship in order to become full-fledged members. Renowned throughout the world, the group is currently considered to be in its fifth generation. Partly due to Mariachi Vargas’ success, mariachi music has now spread across the world allowing it to evolve as newer generations of musicians adapt, interpret, and reimagine music that was originally passed down from generation to generation.
However, at its core, mariachi music is a music based upon the vernacular and the experiences of the proletariat. Even so, it is a music that has managed to transcend labels and has relatively recently been deemed by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.” Many people intuitively understand the significance of preserving one’s cultural heritage, particularly mariachis that continue to live off the very music pioneered by their ancestors.
Mariachi Vargas is but one example of how mariachi music is passed down from generation to generation. Many other groups, whether local or world-famous, are also comprised of family members that continue to practice a music caught between tradition and revitalization. For example, listen to one of the newest mariachi groups from my home state of Zacatecas, Mariachi México Lindo, which has fused some of the original elements germane to mariachi music with John Lennon’s famous song, Imagine. This is a family group that comfortably transitions between new and old because its members respect tradition as well as the act of creating opportunities for newer generations to express their own unique voices and explore their diverse musical influences. The added complexity of family relationships present within a business enterprise can have a significant effect on an organization’s success. However, it appears that the family dynamics present in this ensemble—like many other family bands—are able to support a balance between innovation and the preservation of tradition due to the focus placed on developing harmonious (excuse the pun!) relationships with one another.
Two-family House is a small, heartfelt movie I saw a long time ago and I really loved it. In this honest depiction of post-WWII life on Staten Island, Italian-American working stiff Buddy (played by Michael Rispoli, of The Sopranos) dreams of opening his own bar, but gets no support from his wife (Kathrine Narducci, also of The Sopranos) and family. When the new tenant moves in, an Irish-American unwed mother of a biracial baby, things take a surprising turn and, as the narrator reveals, becomes the stuff of "family legend."
Welcome to the Rileys is another movie that stars an actor from The Sopranos. James Gandolfini plays Doug Riley and Melissa Leo is the agoraphobic wife in this marriage which has gone cold after the death of their daughter. When Doug goes to New Orleans for a convention, he meets a self-destructive teenage stripper/prostitute (Kristen Stewart) who makes him think of his daughter. He decides to try to help her and act as a father figure. Although this act ends up healing his marriage, it's not all happy endings, and this family drama isn't played for sentimentality.
Quest documents the life of the Rainey family of Philadelphia, over a 10-year period, starting at the beginning of the Obama presidency. In addition to raising their family, they provide a music studio in their home for a community of hip-hop artists. A New York Times Critics' Pick, it's been hailed as "simultaneously sweeping and intimate, using one family's experience to offer trenchant, wide-ranging observations about modern American life." On dvd as well as streaming on Kanopy.
Surfwise depicts an extremely eccentric family, the Paskowitzes. The patriarch, "Doc", left his medical career, and with his third wife and eventually 9 kids, toured the country in a 24-foot camper, winning surfing competitions not earning much money and leaving the kids unschooled. It sounds somewhat idyllic, but as the children grow up and leave, they are barely able to function in the outside world. As they explain in the interviews, the "bohemian, off-the-grid" lifestyle was not a bed of roses. On DVD and Kanopy.
Two favorite films we loved to watch as a family are the enchanting and funny The Iron Giant and the charming classic My Neighbor Totoro.
We played and sang Pete Seeger's All Around the Kitchen when the kids were little. You can find it on the Smithsonian Folkways children's music collection. Another favorite game with music is Fly Through My Window. It's called Little Bird, Little Bird on the album You Are My Little Bird.
You can find family members working together in so many different fields. I’ve decided to highlight some well-known families that have recorded albums together, or in the case of the Wainwrights, father, Loudon and son Rufus, we have an album a piece for you to listen to.
Going through Alexander Street you can make a playlist of your favorite songs. I share with you, my favorite songs from family, about family and celebrating family.
Here are a few Wainwrights together, Rufus Wainwright, his sister Martha Wainwright and their mother Anna McGarrigle performing Mendocino.
Follow the Dutton family in the series YELLOWSTONE with Kevin Costner as the patriarch of this ranching family. Their saga (so far) stretches through four seasons and will keep you at the edge of your seat, both for the beautiful Montana vistas as well as the explosive storytelling! I can hardly wait for season 5 -yet to be released.
Another series that features one of my all time favorite families is THE DURRELLS OF CORFU. In the 1930's a widowed mother took her 4 children from England to live on the island of Corfu, Greece. Each family member has an interesting quirky personality, and this 4-season series is based on the novels by naturalist Gerald Durrell, the youngest child. I was swept away to Greece with the beautiful scenery and completely charmed by the personalities and situations of this real life family.
Finally, here are some movies that depict the sometimes forgotten family members -- dedicated aunts or uncles to their nieces' or nephews' lives:
Most recently I hesitatingly watched C'MON C'MON, and was surprised how engaging it was. In this film Joaquin Phoenix is the uncle who temporarily takes care of his unique nephew. At times it was so well acted I thought I was watching a documentary. Anyway, I'm glad I gave this current film a try, it's quite unusual.
In the movie GIFTED, Chris Evans plays a different kind of superhero as an uncle to his orphaned precocious niece. He is assisted with her care by friend and neighbor played by Olivia Spencer, so an altogether great cast in this touching film.
Lastly, this is an old favorite film with a business woman aunt who suddenly is called upon to care for her orphaned niece. I think BABY BOOM just might be my favorite Diane Keaton film.
One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is that there has been an incredibly vibrant music scene that has thrived for a long time.
One of my all time favorite groups hails from Oakland, The Pointer Sisters have charted a fearless career of challenging people's expectations. Starting as a soul group, they won their first Grammy award and became the first African American group to play the Grand Ole Opry with the COUNTRY song "Fairytale" (featured on their Yes We Can Can album). Their album Break Out won two more Grammy Awards and started a whole new phase of their careers in eighties dance music.
Other fantastic groups featuring families are Sly and the Family Stone which not only featured two brothers and a sister but was one of the most successful bands that integrated black and white musicians as well as men and women. Despite political pressure of the time, Sly Stone, the bandleader, kept to his integrated vision of the band. Great hits including "It's a Family Affair" and "Everyday People" can be checked out in the Essential Sly and the Family Stone streaming on Freegal as well as on CD.
Another great sister group Sister Sledge, were a big part of the disco scene for me. Their songs "We Are Family" and "He's the Greatest Dancer" and so many others are perfect for conjuring up the late seventies/early eighties dance sound. Check out The Best of Sister Sledge on Freegal.
There are so many other great groups but I want to spend some time on some great movies where family members worked together.
Of course, The Godfather movies where director, Francis Ford Coppola worked with his sister, actress, Talia Shire and father, composer Carmine Coppola creating a classic trilogy and gaining Oscar recognition for all of them in the process.
One of the most famous husband and wife real life couples were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. While their films were uneven in quality, they definitely made one masterpiece together, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Debuting director Mike Nichols, managed to get both members of this famous couple to deliver career best performances and make a film that would win five Oscars (including one for Taylor).
Other Taylor/Burton films of interest are Cleopatra (the most expensive movie ever made for many years) and The V.I.P.s which won Margaret Rutherford an Oscar for stealing the movie away from her high profile co-stars!
Movies & Music - Question of the Week
Which of the following groups contain actual family members who are related?
Sly and the Family Stone0
The Brother Johnson0
All of the Above0
None of the Above0
Last Week's Trivia Answer: Costume Design