Saturday, December 15, 2007

51 Birch Street: A Film Discussion Guide

Last night at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, we had one of the best film discussions that I have ever witnessed. Fourteen people came to see the documentary 51 Birch Street by filmmaker Doug Block. In this film, which begins when his mother dies, he seeks to learn why his father would remarry within three months of her death. Was his parents' 54-year marriage a happy one? When his father decides to sell the family home, he and his sisters come to sort through all the possessions. They discover 30 years worth of journals written by the late mother.

After the film ended, the discussion began and lasted for half a hour. I did not need a list of questions or to even direct the conversation. Here are questions that the viewers asked and discussed.

  1. Is it right to read a deceased person's journals? How would you know whether they intended them to be read? Would you want to know what is in your parent's journals?
  2. Would you trust what was written in a journal?
  3. Why do children dislike the idea of a surviving parent remarrying? Should there be a period of grief observed before remarrying? When life expectancy is already short, is there a reason to wait?
  4. Was Block's mother depressed? Did the traditional housewife role doom her? Would she have enjoyed life more if she had a job? Did psychotherapy help her?
  5. Was Block's parents' marriage a mistake? Were they just not compatible? Was she incapable of love or was he incapable? Was making do for so many years acceptable?
  6. Did Block's father have an affair? What constitutes "an affair"? How did he reconnect with his new wife so quickly after more than thirty years?
  7. Why do Block's sisters disappear in the latter part of the movie?
  8. Is Block honest about his own feelings about marriage?
  9. How do fathers and sons learn to accept each other? What right does Block have to ask his father such personal questions?
I was struck by the sheer amount of stuff that in the Block house after 50 years. It is so funny and sad how the father keeps trying to get the son take some of the things that he has saved for so many years.

I had thought that the film might be terribly sad, but it was not. Block takes the film in directions that the audience does not expect, probably because he was very surprised by the developments. I recommend it to public library discussion groups.

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