Posted at 5:54 PM on November 3, 2006
by Euan Kerr
"51 Birch Street" caused a minor argument in the Kerr household.
Here's the set-up: documentary film-maker Doug Block had been shooting video of his parents Mike and Mina for ages, intrigued by what made their 50 year marriage work.
(The Block Family in 1973: Film maker Doug Block stands in the middle with his sisters, his parents Mike and Mina Block stand on the ends.)
He was still in the midst of the project when his mother suddenly died. Understandably Bloch was devastated, but he was thrown for even more of a loop when just a few months later his father announced he had reconnected with Kitty, his secretary of 30 years before.
Just weeks after that his father and Kitty married, and began packing up the Bloch family home so they could move to Florida.
Doug went to help out, and discovered a box filled with his mothers diaries. After some soul-searching he read them, and discovered a very different view of his parents marriage.
So what was the argument? My beloved felt what Block did was a betrayal of his mother's privacy. It was bad enough reading her diaries, even if she is dead, but to make a film about it and show the world? That's betrayal.
I was less upset about that, but more concerned about Block's role in the film. It's tough to make a documentary when you are part of the central core of the story. Finding the right balance of being able to tell the story without becoming an overwhelming presence is hard. Robb Moss found it in "The Same River Twice" and Ralph Arlyck in "Following Sean."
But somehow Block seems too present. Yes, he's part of the story, but it's his parents story first and foremost. Perhaps he felt he needed to interject himself to cover for a shortage of information elsewhere, but as the story went on it's hard not to wish that he'd move aside to let the tale develop.
What he does do is make us do what we probably don't do enough: look at ourselves and consider. What do we really know about our families? And do we really want to know more than we do?
Thanks for writing about my film, Euan. Everyone's obviously entitled to their opinions regarding the disclosure of my mother's diaries, and I kind of like the debate. But it's not like I don't consider this in the film and even have a rabbi and my mother's best friend address the issue - and come out on the side of revealing it publicly.
As for too much of me in the film, well, you should see my cutting room floor ;-) But it's hard to make a first-person p.o.v. documentary and not be in there. A very delicate balance - if you're not in there enough you get accused of being a coward. Too much and you're a narcistic creep. And it's harder not to be a part of it if you're the one who's doing the shooting.
Thanks for writing Doug.
I should have pointed out that I don't envy your challenge in making this film, and finding that balance. I had not arrived at the narcist/creep continuum you describe, but it makes sense to me! Again I don't envy you, and I am in awe of your decision to follow this project through.
I hope a lot of people go to see this film. It would be great to talk about around the Thanksgiving table.