51 Birch Street

"Excellent"

51 Birch Street Review


The intriguing documentary 51 Birch Street asks two questions: how well do you really know your parents as people, and if you could know them better, would you really want to?

Meet the Blocks, very much your average American family of the second half of the 20th century. Dad Mike returned from World War II, married his sweetheart Mina, and together they built a split-level tract house in a new suburb outside New York and had three children in four years. Dad worked long hours at the office, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids. What could be more conventional?

More than 50 years later Mina dies suddenly, and son Doug, a Ross McElwee-like documentarian who is usually puttering around with his video camera in hand, stumbles across a great topic: his parents' marriage. Just three months after Mina's death, Mike remarries, choosing as his new wife the woman who served as his secretary 35 years earlier. At the same time, he decides to sell the family home and move to Florida, and in the process of packing up, Doug comes across thousands of pages of diaries his mother kept for 30 years. With some qualms, he starts reading.

What emerges is a portrait of a pathologically introspective woman who was deeply unhappy in her marriage, went through more than a decade of intensive psychotherapy during which she fell in love with her therapist, and suffered the crippling frustration of being caught in a conventional societal role while dreaming of so much more. One of her daughters wonders what would have happened if Mina had been born 20 years later and had reaped some of the benefits of the women's movement.

Mike, on the other hand, is depicted as a typical distant Dad, unable, like most men of his generation, to express his feelings and most relaxed when he was hidden away in the basement working with his tools.

Doug interviews his sisters, his mother's friends, a therapist who specializes in father/son issues, and even a rabbi who officiates at some of the weddings Doug films as his day job. He also tries, after decades of communication problems, to interview his father, but as you'd expect, Mike, though thoughtful and well-spoken, is not one to dredge up the past. Hanging over all the interviews is the big question: did Mike have an intimate relationship with his secretary all those years ago?

Anyone whose parents were born between 1920 and 1940 will see something of their own parents in the Blocks and will be deeply moved by the scenes of Mike packing up the only home his family has ever known and trying to give away various bric-a-brac to his children, none of whom have much interest in it. Doug achieves what most of us don't: a full appreciation of his parents as living, breathing people with their own hopes, disappointments, and desires, trying to live within society's expectations without letting their souls -- and their marriage -- wither.

51 Birch Street is a documentary for every Baby Boomer, and every Boomer parent, to ponder. It may look at first glance like a glorified home movie, but there is a whole lot going on.

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51 Birch Street

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 18th October 2006

Distributed by: Truly Indie

Production compaines: Copacetic Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Doug Block

Producer: Doug Block,

Starring: Carol Block as Herself, Doug Block as Himself (narrator), Ellen Block as Herself

Also starring:

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