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kottke.org posts about 51 Birch Street

The Kids Grow Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2011

Documentary filmmaker Doug Block popped up on the internet’s radar with the release of Home Page in 1998. In 2005, he released the excellent 51 Birch Street, a film about his family.

51 Birch Street is the first-person account of a family’s unpredictable journey through dramatic life-changing events. Having observed most of his parents’ 54-year marriage, Doug Block believed it to be quite a good one. A few months after his mother’s sudden death from pneumonia, Doug Block’s 83-year old father, Mike, calls him to announce that he’s moving to Florida to live with “Kitty”, his secretary from 40 years before. Always close to his mother and equally distant from his father, Doug and his two older sisters were shocked and suspicious. How long had Kitty been an intimate part of their father’s life, they wondered.

Block’s latest film also deals with his family. The Kids Grow Up is about his relationship with his only daughter Lucy as she prepares to leave for college.

‘Just think,” says Doug Block’s wife, Marjorie, while he trains his camera on her, “when she works all this through in therapy she can take the footage with her. Her therapist won’t have to imagine what you were like.” Block, a documentary-maker, filmed their daughter Lucy’s final year at high school — interspersed with footage of her over the years. His film, The Kids Grow Up, is ostensibly about how a father copes with the prospect of his cherished only child leaving home to go to college. But there is lots more here. It is about his own childhood - “I was a lousy parent in the main,” admits Block’s elderly, ailing father — and about what it means to be a modern dad (friend or father?). It is about the passage of time,and Block’s inability to let go of the past and grow up, as his wife — ever the voice of reason — puts it during one of their filmed interviews.

How does Block get out of accepting that he has become a grandfather when his stepson and his wife have a baby? By insisting on being called Uncle Doug. “Pathetic,” Marjorie says with a smile and a shake of the head.