G.J. Echternkamp couldn't have made up parents like "Frank and Cindy," who willingly expose their phenomenally screwed-up lives for their son's unvarnished digital lens. Some may want to inquire if the vicious fights and outbursts onscreen were staged or gamely captured, but the domestic spectacle is something to see -- and speaks volumes about Echternkamp's ability to have grown up as an evidently well-adjusted adult. Catnip for doc fests, this one is prime cable fare as well.

G.J. Echternkamp couldn’t have made up parents like “Frank and Cindy,” who willingly expose their phenomenally screwed-up lives for their son’s unvarnished digital lens. Some may want to inquire if the vicious fights and outbursts onscreen were staged or gamely captured, but the domestic spectacle is something to see — and speaks volumes about Echternkamp’s ability to have grown up as an evidently well-adjusted adult. Catnip for doc fests, this one is prime cable fare as well.

“You’re pure gold,” Echternkamp mutters to dad Frank Garcia and mom Cynthia Brown as he trains his camera on them. Meaning, he frankly explains, that they’ll make a terrific movie — and maybe just the breakout opportunity for Echternkamp, a struggling actor. From such candor is the pic built, disarming potential critics who could accuse the project of calculation. In fact, Echternkamp’s vid material initially surfaced on the cable version of Ira Glass’ NPR series, “This American Life,” a safe harbor for such true stories about outrageous American families.

Garcia achieved pop stardom in the ’70s as part of the hit band Oxo, but his career floundered when the group broke up. Cynthia, thinking she was marrying a potential pop sensation, recounts how she watched in slow-motion horror as Frank sank into unemployed alcoholism and nearly committed suicide.

Cynthia’s no rose garden herself, as the doc gradually reveals. Smart-tongued, and with a lot of dreams and little to show for it, her bouts of depression led to a medication-induced car crash that nearly killed her son. Echternkamp manages to extract this and other confessions from both his parents over a year’s filming, and part of the tension of “Frank and Cindy” comes from seeing the couple veer from extraordinary honesty to clashes where they may or may not realize they’re being filmed.

The one silver lining in these peoples’ lives is that they do seem to improve a bit during lensing. At first, Frank is in such a decrepit state that he doesn’t leave his room to urinate or defecate; by close, he has a full-time job and is even recording music again. Cynthia may not be convinced he’s turned a corner, but she continues living with him.

The viewer is happily allowed to go figure. Lensing and sound are raw, as they should be.

Frank and Cindy

Production

A Group Film presentation in association with Dazed Film & TV. Produced, directed by G.J. Echternkamp.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Echternkamp; editors, Echternkamp, Alex Ford, Will Becton; music, Oxo, Frank Garcia; sound, Echternkamp. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival (Real-Markable Stories), Jan. 27, 2008. (Also in Silverdocs Film Festival, Silver Spring, Md.) Running time: 73 MIN.

With

Frank Garcia, Cynthia Brown.

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