Nine years ago, Doug Block made a film deconstructing his last name and exploding his family roots. 51 Birch Street looked at the smallest neighbourhood and first social building-block of all—one’s own family—with the NYC-based documentarian sifting through conversations, his mom’s diaries and film-footage (even juxtaposing his parents’ marriage with his supplementary work as a wedding videographer) to try to conceive how the marriage of the two people who brought him into being could just dissolve. Well before Sarah Polley’s excruciatingly self-regarding Stories We Tell—its hokey re-created scenes from a marriage passed off as flashbacks—Block’s little-seen work pried carefully into the nooks and depths of what almost every child comes to think of as their parents’ seemingly banal marriage.
Now, with 112 Weddings, Block turns to his day job to undercut that Hollywood rom-com ending. He revisits eight of the 112 unions he’s shot for a 7-Up-style look back on a wedding day and, juxtaposed with its extraordinariness and banality (every day, this special rite of passage, for two unique people, is parading down an aisle near you), a look back on the years since with the couple, or divorcee, who’d uttered those sacred vows.
It’s the reflectiveness of Block’s inquiry—by turns personal essay and park-bench musing—that nudges the film along (plus quietly expert editing and pacing). He’s smart/lucky enough to get some good, fairly self-aware talking heads: white American Tom is reticent but Korean-born Yoonhee (wedding #43) is forthcoming about her difficulties (even asking Block to take sides on one question); scriptwriter David Bromberg dryly recounting his ruination of a seven-year marriage; Woody Allen-movie couple Rachel and Paul (#32), who talk together so naturally that it’s obvious they “don’t feel like it’s work [or] this heavy, hard thing.”
Block eyes the ceremony’s performative aspect—”two non-actors thrust into the leading roles”—and a wedding he’s filming during the doc involves the wife-to-be and her bridesmaids indulging in silly poses and pranks before the big day. Curiously, there’s little sense of cultural or gender pressures, though a few wives recall the importance of looking great on the big day or briefly discuss choosing home over work. Children and clinical depression emerge as the two major life-changes rocking marriages here.
Janice and Alexander, whose partnership ceremony Block had filmed after they saw marriage as about “ownership, right of lineage, and possession,” decide years later to formally wed so their legal contract better safeguards their four-member family. And there’s what marriage can now mean to same-sex partners—gay-couple photographers Hannah and Erica see it further defining their citizenship even as they look forward to having two or three kids.
Wedding #1, we learn with Block, ended in adultery—what she says is the “worst thing that could happen to a woman other than losing a child”—and divorce. It’s a return to the beginning to examine one possible end. And 112 Weddings remains riveting because it so deftly rips the veil off a day that mainstream culture still sappily proclaims is about “soulmates” … when we all know, deep down, it’s about one managed moment, full of statement and purpose and signifying an awful lot, in a life we can’t possibly plan for.
Fri, Jul 11 – Mon, Jul 14
Directed by Doug Block
Metro Cinema at the Garneau