'The Kids Grow Up': What Matters Most

The Kids Grow Up intertwines processes, at once documenting Lucy's childhood on film and thinking about the documenting.

The Kids Grow Up

Director: Doug Block
Cast: Lucy Block, Marjorie Silver, Doug Block, Josh Silver
Rated: NR
Studio: Copacetic Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-10-29 (Limited release)
As long as I don’t shoot too much in public, you're okay?

-- Doug Block

The camera hovers over the face of a pale and dark-haired child. She looks off-screen, as she hears a question: "So, um, do you have happy memories of your childhood?" She looks directly into the lens. "I am a child," she says. "This is my childhood." The cameraman -- who is her father -- persists. "Are you happy?" She pauses. "I don't know."

Lucy Block grew up with cameras. Her father says she had the "misfortune of being born right at the dawn of the consumer camcorder, and she had the double misfortune of having a documentary filmmaker for a father." That would be Doug Block. The film he's made, The Kids Grow Up, is partly about his daughter, partly about parenting, and partly about making a film about all that.

Opening 29 October at the Angleika Film Center, The Kids Grow Up is occasioned by Lucy's imminent departure for college. Feeling unprepared to "let her go," Block points his camera at Lucy's back as the two of them make their way across Stanford's campus. He wonders why her potential choices for school are all on the west coast when they live in New York. "I don’t know," she murmurs, the camera close on her profile. "For some reason, I don’t want to be too close too home."

Anyone whose life has been recorded exhaustively by loving parents might recognize the look on Lucy's face here: patient, appreciative, and vaguely impatient. Her expression is not lost on her father: he's spent much of his life filming and looking at her image. But he's convinced that he has good reasons and intentions that override occasional temporary discomfort. His own childhood was occasionally imaged, as revealed in brief footage here and in his previous film, 51 Birch Street, which tracked Block's long-after the-fact discovery of longstanding troubles in his parents' marriage. The score for both films tends to sentimental piano, his narration for both ranges from confessional to curious to bumptious: repeatedly, he points his camera at family members and asks for answers: what are you feeling? are you happy? what advice do you have for me? And repeatedly, his wife Marjorie, his (late) father Mike, his stepson Josh, his sisters and his daughter all respond, apparently honestly.

What's most complicated and surprising in these family documentaries -- and what becomes more pronounced in The Kids Grow Up -- is the delicate, remarkably flexible tension between surface and experience. Where 51 Birch Street explicitly dug into a past found to be false (or at least hidden to the children in the house), the new movie digs into a past that Block has documented assiduously, as he comes to see himself in new ways, his perspective shaped and reshaped over time and in others' eyes.

The film intertwines processes, at once documenting Lucy's childhood on film and thinking about the documenting. Doug wants to know as much as he can about his daughter -- so elusive, so lovely, so individual -- at each moment. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" he asks her as a child. She muses, "A singer." Perhaps she'll "sit around the house all day and watch TV, have my husband make all the money and sit around at home and do nothing." When he asks the teenaged Lucy the same question (making a sequence for the film), she's ready for it: "Ask me when I grow up."

As Doug records and reflects on his experiences with Lucy, he and Marjorie are facing their daughter's for school with a mix of pride and anxiety. The film records her Marjorie's experience with depression (the first severe bout she's endured in 13 years): she lies in bed, she puts him off, she plays solitaire on her computer. Having been through this before, they know new medication will eventually do its work, but, Block says, "Until then, we live in suspended animation."

Or not quite. He continues to investigate Lucy's childhood while also following her around with his camera now. He's haunted, he says over a clip that looks at first like a tangent, by "an especially long and intimate chat with Lucy on camera, where somehow no sound got recorded." He worries that this silence is a representation of his forgetting, past and future, what he will lose due to not documenting it.

Though Marjorie assures Block that the process of knowing Lucy will go on after she leaves, when she is a fellow adult, he frets over the coming "empty nest," both the lack of access to Lucy and the time he will have with Marjorie without a child in the house. His questions his sisters (whose grown children have already left home), his father, and his stepson, a wonderfully wise new father as the film is in progress. One sister, Karen, tears up as she remembers picking fights with her daughter -- visible here in framed snapshots -- just before she moved out. "I thought, 'This isn't really like me. Why am I being so mean to her?'"

Karen's narrowing view of herself in the past parallels the images we see of Doug with Lucy. He doesn't pick fights, certainly, but he prods and pokes, wants to understand and share her life, remembers fondly her five-year-old self holding his hand or her slightly older self musing that maybe some day she'll be a filmmaker too. He includes a clip of another moment as well, as he asks her yet again to describe herself for him. "I'm not willing to share my life with you," a teenaged version sighs. "You get a big part of it." He pushes from off-screen: what part does he get to see? Exasperated, she tells him what he already knows: "You see the part that you see every day... The part you don’t see is me when I'm not with you. You're not meant to see it."

After Block inserts some footage Lucy has taken of her friends, laughing and laughing, out of her parents' sight, the film goes on to mull this question over, what Block is meant to see, what he imagines or projects, as you may also begin to you're meant to see or can imagine -- all these registers of reactions, the camera capturing moments that would otherwise be fleeting -- would slide into silence or be reshaped in memories. The grace of The Kids Grow Up lies in its own elusiveness. As your empathies shift and develop, you're aware of your own processes, your shifting relationships with Doug and Marjorie and Lucy. It's intimate and also indistinct, bringing you ever closer, but never close enough.

Block's own understanding is understated. As hard as he tries to be a better parent than his own father, to be open and expressive and attentive, he sees that he has raised children who can help him toward that end. They also teach him to be a better, more generous son, another kid still growing up.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.