“51 Birch Street” at Oval Film

Filmmaker Doug Block (left) with his father Mike, both of whom are subjects of Block's 2005 documentary "51 Birch Street"

On April 26 at 6:00 pm Oval Film will present Stuyvesant Town Filmmaker Doug Block’s exceptional 2005 documentary “51 Birch Street.”  Block will appear at the screening for a Q & A.

In “51 Birch Street” Block brings his unique point of view to the personal documentary genre by probing that which may be the most intriguing of mysteries, parents.  Only three months after his mother Mina’s sudden death, Block’s 83-year-old father, Mike, announces that he has become involved with Kitty, his former secretary from 35 years ago.  Soon after, Mike and Kitty marry.  Block is taken aback but at the same time intrigued.  How could his father remarry so quickly after 54 years of marriage to his mother?  Did his father and Kitty have a long ago affair?  Were there other women?  What kind of relationship did his seemingly happy parents really have?

Block needs to act quickly as his father and Kitty are packing up the house and moving to Florida in just a few weeks.  The search for answers takes Block to his two sisters, Karen and Ellen, a psychiatrist, a rabbi and Block’s wacky Uncle Josh who performs his original song “I Flunk Adultery.”  In the process Block also contemplates his own marriage, to his wife Marjorie.

As with any good mystery it is better not to give away too much.  Suffice to say that “51 Birch Street” has a fascinating and poignant narrative that weaves together old photographs, home movies, Mina’s journals, Block’s video taped interviews and insightfully written first person narration.  These elements work together to tell a story of lives lived with quiet desperation in post World War II American suburbia.  It is an unflinching, intimate and fascinating documentary made by a loving son who dared to ask difficult and painful questions and who, as a result, became closer to his parents.  Above all this is a portrait of regular people, who also happen to be compelling characters, negotiating the complexities of life and relationships where, to quote Mina, “Nothing is direct…Everything is circuitous.”

51 Birch Street, Director Doug Block, 2006,

Copacetic Pictures, 90 minutes


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 19, 2010, in Documentary. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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