Do you really know your parents? And how much about them would you really want to know, anyway? Such questions percolate throughout “51 Birch Street,” an engrossing, emotionally powerful documentary in which one man’s very personal journey uncovers some universal truths about the complicated relationships between parent and child.
Documentary maker Doug Block felt compelled to investigate his parents’ 54-year marriage after his beloved mother, Mina Block, died of pneumonia. A few months later, 83-year-old widower Mike Block announced to the family that he was marrying his ex-secretary from decades earlier, selling the family home (at 51 Birch St. in Port Washington, N.Y.) and moving to Florida.
With the help of home movies and reams of journals that Mina kept throughout the Sixties, Doug Block delves into his family history to learn about the parents he mistakenly thought he knew. While the film has echoes of such family-centric documentaries as “Capturing the Friedmans” and “Tarnation,” “51 Birch Street” unearths decidedly less lurid “ and therefore, more relatable and relevant “ quandaries that face us all.
The film’s release on DVD gives cinephiles an opportunity to catch this fascinating doc that earned critical accolades but scant audiences. Definitely worth seeking out.