Filmmaker explores his parents’ marriage
Sidebar: JCC film fest begins
How well do we really know our parents? The answer is often elusive. Even for those of us whose parents are, or were, married a veritable lifetime. You think you have them figured out, but then something happens to challenge your assumptions. And suddenly, you realize that there’s so much you didn’t know. And then, you find yourself wondering if you really wanted those new insights anyway.
That’s what happened to Doug Block, a documentary filmmaker who was in his late 40s when he set out to capture his parents’ marital magic on camera. Mike and Mina were wed 54 years. He went to work each day as an engineer. She stayed home raising three kids Doug and his two sisters. They all shared a comfortable suburban lifestyle in Port Washington, on Long Island’s North Shore. Memories were pleasant. Nobody starved. Snapshots showed family members sporting big smiles.
Doug’s main purpose in delving into his parents’ marriage was to explore his relationship with each of them. He was as close with his mother as he was distant with his father. But before he could work out some of the puzzles, the unexpected occurred. In 2002, his mom, Mina, passed away after a three-week bout with pneumonia. And if that wasn’t enough, three months later, his dad, Mike, visited Florida and, upon his return, announced that he was getting remarried to Kitty. Who was Kitty? Mike’s secretary from many years earlier, whom he hadn’t seen in a very long time.
Or so he says, Doug wonders aloud.
And so Doug sets off to solve a very personal mystery. How well did his dad and Kitty know one another way back when? Was there something between them? Had they kept in touch from time to time? If not, how did he happen to find her in Florida? How could he remarry so quickly? And what did this sudden move say about Mike and Mina’s marriage?
One would think such questions can never be answered, especially since Mike is a man of few words, albeit an affable one. Doug, however, strikes pay dirt when Mike and Kitty who are cleaning out the Port Washington home so it can be sold before they move to Florida find Mina’s voluminous diaries dating back some 40 years.
Suddenly, Doug finds answers to questions he didn’t even have. And some make him, well, uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, there was more to his parents’ marriage than he ever imagined. Mike and Mina weren’t always everything they appeared to be, at least as seen through a son’s eyes. Like many relationships, theirs took twists and turns that challenged, saddened, and, ultimately, bonded them.
So what really happened? Did Mike and Kitty have that secretive tryst? Was Mina really the dutiful housewife? Was the marriage ever really happy? How did it last as long as it did? You’ll have to see this very touching and insightful film to find out. But for anyone whose parents were married a long time or if you’ve been married a long time the scenes will almost certainly appear familiar.
The New Jersey Jewish Film Festival screens 51 Birch Street with A Kiss Is a Kiss Is a Kiss on Tuesday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, West Orange. There will be a post-screening discussion with director Doug Block.
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