TVR: 51 Birch Street
This week I’ve got a video review instead of a book review. This is actually one that a PR company sent me as a review copy, but then I didn’t get around to watching it for over 6 months. Oops. 51 Birch Street is an autobiographical documentary about the filmmaker’s parents, and how after his mother’s death and his father’s swift remarriage, Doug Block discovered that their relationship was a lot more complicated than he had believed.
The inevitable comparison is to Capturing the Friedmans, because of the use of extensive home video footage. But unlike the Friedmans, the Blocks don’t have a deep dark secret. The surprise for Doug Block is that, as he reads his mother’s diaries, he discovers that she was deeply unhappy in her marriage, and that during the 70s she had an affair. Not exactly earthshattering. But what makes the movie compelling, although deeply sad, is that as Block shows more and more of the family footage, it becomes increasingly obvious that his mother wasn’t exactly hiding her unhappiness. And yet, although Block opens the movie by saying that he and his mother always had a special connection, he was clearly blind to it.
My take-away from the film is that when Block says that he was close to his mother, he means that he was able to talk with her about himself (as contrasted with his father, whom he had difficulty talking with). It doesn’t mean that he was able to listen to her, or to see her as a person separate from her role as a mother. That’s probably pretty common, but I found it sad.