Film

So There Are '112 Weddings', but What Happens After the 112 Ceremonies?

This explores the marriages that come after the weddings and perhaps more provocatively, the hopes and limits of documentary filmmaking.


112 Weddings

Director: Doug Block
Cast: Doug Block, Heather and Sam Dodge, Rachel and Paul Shapiro, Jennifer Hyjack and Augie Alexander, Danielle and Adam Hark, Anna Conlan and Erica Beckman, Rabbi Jonathan Blake
Rated: NR
Studio: HBO Documentary Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-06-30 (HBO)
Website
Trailer

"Tell me what you're looking for in the video." Doug Block is on the phone with a potential client, someone who's looking to have their wedding recorded. And as he speaks, you start to wonder, not only what someone might want to have done, but also, what anyone might expect of such a document? What does a wedding video show, what can it reveal or preserve, and what does it not show?

Block sets up these and other questions at the start of his new documentary 112 Weddings, which screened at AFI Docs and premieres on HBO 30 June. The answers are as complicated and compelling as you might imagine, as the film explores the marriages that come after weddings, their mix of hopes and limits, perhaps more provocatively, the hopes and limits of documentary.

"Weddings can certainly get you to wonder," Block narrates as you watch footage of belly dancers, a bit of one of the 112 weddings he has taped over some 20 years. "Lately I've been wondering about the whole concept of marriage." He took up recording weddings, he explains, to support his other work, making his documentaries, including The Kids Grow Up and 51 Birch Street, both wonderful contemplations of his own family dynamics. In the new film, he goes back to several couples whose weddings he taped in order to ask how things turned out, how their dynamics evolved, how their marriages were like or unlike what they expected.

As it turns out, no one here has a marriage they expected. "I had no expectations, I don't think," says Augie, married to Jennifer for eight years. He admits that he worried "the backrubs would stop, that everything was going to be different," but that wasn't the case, at least until they had their daughter. "That's when the shit hit the fan." Jen laughs when he says this. Block's camera shows the two seated together in their apartment, framed photos on the wall, CDs on shelves, a string of lights decorating the window behind them.

As Augie speaks, he glances at Jen; she smiles, sometimes laughs. Photos show them with their baby, his face exhausted (one photo shows him with a sleep blindfold). She's taken a new job as a children's art teacher, they say, one that pays less than her work "in television", a transition that's been, she says, "an interesting journey." When Augie suggests that there were points when he thought they needed a break ("to leave for a week and then come back"), he pauses to look at her: "Your eyes are just saying, like, uh, this is a painful conversation."

The moment is like others in 112 Weddings, painful but also not. The subjects all appear at ease, open to Block's questions and willing to broach difficult topics on camera, at least to a point. It's this "point" that makes the film fascinating, as the filmmaker is plainly respectful of the limits his subjects might have, whether in their self-expressions of self-performances, the memories they feel able to share, the relationship details they can show.

For each story, the film offers wedding video footage, the happy starts for each marriage, the lovingly supportive or awkward relatives, the beautiful gowns, the lovely beach settings or multi-tiered cakes. Also for each story, the film finds visual rhymes for these past moments in present day images, couples on couches, seated apart or close together, framed by cluttered shelves and kitchen counters and pictures of their kids. Alluding both to continuities and changes in the relationships, these contexts tell stories in ways that the interviews cannot.

And so you see how documentaries do their work, sometimes intentional, sometimes surprising, always engaging. And so, as Rachel and Paul describe their marriage, their delight with their wonderful children and their understanding that compromises must be made. They sit on a sofa together, a close-up drawing attention to their hands entwined. "We work like anybody does to try to see the other person's point of view," says Paul, as a medium shot shows they both look toward the camera, not at one another; Rachel's face scrunches up briefly, her memory of that work at once funny and telling.

Other visual details serve similar purposes, illustrating and layering the couple's narratives. And so, when Danielle and Adam recall their wedding, the happy moment when they looked forward to a future full of more happiness, she reveals, remarkably candidly, her struggle with depression. Her "negative thoughts," Danielle says, continue to worry her, as a mother of a young child as well as a wife. Adam, for his part, confesses that sometimes he feels as though he's a single parent of two children, as Block's camera shows Danielle seated in the background of a shot, where Adam engages with their daughter in the foreground.

"I don't know if the choice was the best choice for Adam," she frets. Still, Adam insists during their interview, his arm over Danielle's shoulder "I wouldn't want to do this with anyone else." She smiles, and in that moment, as he laughs with her, you can see in them, again, the youngsters who posed for photos together as young graduates, a bride and groom.

As hopeful as these images may be, it may still be worth asking, as Block does, "Why is it such a big deal to get married?" Anna Conlan, a wedding photographer who means to marry her partner Erica Beckman, has an answer that expands the parameters of what marriage can mean. "It's a really important social institution, one of the ways our society defines citizenship, isn’t it?"

For all of the many social and economic ramifications and goals of the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage, the political framework is undeniable. As 112 Weddings shows the two of them at work, snapping photos of a smiling heterosexual couple, the cut from one couple to the other makes the case clear enough.

8
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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