51 Birch Street (Germany/USA; 90 min.)


directed by: Doug Block
documentary
51 Birch Street
 
Bruce says: "**Spoilers**

"The idea of seeing someone else’s home movies may be appealing if the “someone else” is a good friend, but much less so if the films belong to a stranger. There are exceptions such as TARNATION and CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS. The problem for me is that watching such films usually offers only entertainment value. They teach me little and don’t particularly trigger anything tucked away in the recesses of my mind. 51 BIRCH STREET may change my mind on this particular issue. This film proves that someone else’s story can be a marvelous vehicle for my own self-examination and my looking back at my own parent's marriage.

"Doug Block is a filmmaker who has a second business videotaping weddings and other affairs, a business that helps pay the bills. Doug considers himself very much his mother’s son and has had little contact with his father over the years, including the formative ones during which his father was constantly away from home working. Doug videotaped his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and that occasion led to some video interviews with his parents and, in particular, his mother. At the party his parents seemed happy enough although they appeared a bit grumpy which could easily be written off to old age. Never guessing that a video of Minna and Mike Block could be an augury for a documentary film, nothing more happened to the project until Minna Block abruptly died of pneumonia.

"Doug and his two sisters Karen and Ellen discuss the shock of their mother’s death. Shortly thereafter, the essence of 51 BIRCH STREET is revealed. Three months after his wife’s death, Mike Block calls to say he has moved in with Kitty, his former secretary with whom he reconnected on a trip to Florida. Then he marries Kitty. Next they decide to sell 51 Birch Street. As the house is emptied out, the kids find thirty years worth of diaries that Minna had kept. They consult with Minna’s best friend Natasha about the appropriateness of reading them. When asked what she would do, Natasha says “I’d read them.” Family secrets are soon discovered. Minna was in love with her therapist, had an affair with another man, fancied fellatio, and had constant doubts about her marriage. That is a lot of information for her children to take in. What had appeared to the children - for their entire lives - as a fairly happy marriage was anything but. When Doug asks his father whether he would miss Minna, Mike candidly responds, 'Not really.'

"Throughout the film Doug Block asks himself questions and hypothesizes about happiness, what defines it and how it shapes our lives. He even begins to question his own marriage. One of the most brutal moments in the film is where Doug interviews his wife and asks what makes her happy. He was not on her list. The trite saying goes 'relationships should never be taken for granted,' implying that we never know our blessings until we loose them. 51 BIRCH STREET puts a twist on that adage. Perhaps we are kidding ourselves about our happiness and life is more or less a struggle to maintain the illusion we are happy. In seeing 51 BIRCH STREET, Minna and Mike Block will likely send you out of the theater examining your own life in ways that you did not think of before you saw this film. 5 cats"