Thursday, January 31, 2008

51 Birch Street

51 Birch Street (see web site) is a documentary by New York filmmaker Doug Block about his parents. I rented it from Netflix thinking it sounded interesting, and within minutes of sliding it into the DVD player was hooked. At first it's simply a documentary of an ordinary Long Island family. For posterity, the son decides to record some footage of his parents, who are in their seventies, his mom decidedly better preserved than Mike, his dad. At first, the camera is mostly on Mina, the mom. The son has always felt closer to her, and she has an engaging, voluble manner, as opposed to his dad who was "another story." A cirumspect, introspective engineer who escaped to his cluttered basement shop and seldom interacted with his kids, the father (a "fifties dad") has always been hard to get close to. The filmmaker and his two sisters, who are frequently on camera, agree on the remoteness of their father.
The camera freqently flashes back to photos and film footage of earlier days. It's obviously a well-documented family. And then, rather suddenly, his mom develops pneumonia and within three weeks is dead. This sends him into a tailspin which is complicated not long afterward when his dad becomes engaged to a former secretary who has been living in Florida. Immediately, there are suspicions that his dad has had an ongoing affair with Kitty, who comes to Long Island to help Mike pack up, sell the family house, and move to Florida.
When the family comes across Mina's voluminous diaries and Doug, after some hesitation, begins to read through them, he and his sisters have to revise their assumptions about their parents' marriage. And the the unexpected result is an unprecedented closeness to his dad, who ultimately does move to Florida with Kitty. It's a gripping film, though it's about ordinary middle-class people who spent most of their lives in an ordinary middle-class community. It's finally a commentary on the hidden lives some (perhaps all of us to some extent) live while trying to make everything work out right. This film made several lists of the ten best films of the year.

K. Silem Mohammed's useful discussion of School of Quietude vs. Post-Avantism

She was born into music,
and now her disheveled hair
hovers above a keyboard
in a room lit by a computer
screen’s glow, jagged
horizontal lines sounding
out six parts: voice,
background guitar, bass,
lead guitar, snare, high hat.
It comes together
in the phones that cup
her ears like muffs.
She nods to the pounding
beat of the road,
its ravages and bliss.


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