Monday, October 25, 2010

THE KIDS GROW UP: Doug Block explores/ exposes his family (further, and yet again) Documentary to air on HBO2 June 19th!

A documentary filmmaker has videotaped his child through her early life to young adulthood. Does she like it? Not particularly, and particularly not as she grows older. Her mom offers the ironic prediction that, in the years to come, at least their daughter will be able to show this film to her therapists. Now, in the year between the summer in which his daughter picks out a college and the time that she actually leaves home to attend that school, dad both messily and methodically films as much as he can -- of his daughter, wife, parents, friends, and extended family -- as though something major might be revealed here. Is it? Yes and no.

Back in 2005 Doug Block (shown at right, more currently, and below with wife and daughter a decade ago) gave us one of the seminal family-with-secrets documentar-ies 51 Birch Street. (Andrew Jarecki's fine Capturing the Friedmans came two years earlier, but Birch Street beat it out in terms of sheer surprise, exposé and the underside of "normalcy." This year's wonderful Phyllis and Harold, by Cindy Kleine, continues the trend.) Unlike his Birch Street story, however, Block's Kids has nary a "gotcha" moment. No "mystery" is revealed -- except maybe another interesting look at those mysteries we call life and family.

On one level, there should be no one who sees this film who would not be deeply affected by it. Who could not identify?  All of us were children at one time (some of us -- the filmmaker himself, as his wife points out -- still are), many of us are parents, some of whom have now reached grand-parenting stage. And there is plenty to be affected by in the movie, even if it often seems relatively standard stuff: kids growing up, parents aging, the empty nest thing.

Yet around the edges of the movie hover other issues, more specific and just as important: mom has a depression issue, which pops up again after a decade or more in remission. Daughter Lucy (shown above as a child, below as young woman) had a year abroad in France, the result of which is a now long-term boyfriend named Romain, who spends five weeks with the family each summer. So distraught is Romain (Lucy, too) with the prospect of parting, perhaps for good, that we're left wondering: What has or will become of Romain. (I hope there's a French documentarian readying a film about this kid.)  Dad's Peter Pan complex also gets a mention, and indeed may have been one of the subconscious reasons he embarked upon this film, but it receives no further exploration from the filmmaker. You can only do so much in one 92-minute movie.

Visually, Block manages some wonderful things with content and editing (by Maeve O'Boyle): scenes of daughter Lucy traveling in a car -- one moment she's a little girl, the next a young woman. This makes an amusing, near-shocking visual equivalent of how quickly kids seem to grow up. Later, at Lucy's school, a pile of catsup packets from her locker takes on a wonderful, strange resonance.

We see and hear from the father who was at the center of 51 Birch Street, and his new wife/ex-secretary, as well as from the filmmaker's sisters and Lucy's half-brother. Together the documentary and its people bring up everything from life and parenting to loss, aging and death -- calling the film's viewers, as well as themselves, to account for their failures and successes. Finally, The Kids Grow Up questions, intentionally or not, the very point and worth of the documentary film as a route to truth. (Daniel Burman's lovely Argentine film, Empty Nest -- more allusive and artful -- deals with some of these same issues but in narrative form. See it if you haven't already: It can be streamed now via Netflix.)

Alternately obvious and probing, the film is one I would not have missed -- though it made me grateful that I didn't have a camera going while my own daughter was growing up. When a filmmaker refuses to turn off his camera, no mater what, we acknowledge his dedication and perseverance. But what do we call a father when his daughter repeatedly asks that he turn off the camera, yet he goes right on shooting?

The Kids Grow Up begins its theatrical run on Friday, October 29, at New York City's Angelika Film Center and will open in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Sunset 5 on November 12.

(All photos are from the film, except that of Mr. Block solo, 
by Jeff Vespa, courtesy of

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