Over the years, director Doug Block has proven himself to be an astute chronicler of the interpersonal, a filmmaker interested in the emotional impact of human relationships and the distinct difference between their public and private implications. Both his personal account of his own parents’ complex relationship in 51 Birch Street and the multilayered look at how child/parent relationships transform over time in The Kids Grow Up perfectly exemplify Block’s fascination with the topic, and his supplemental work as a wedding videographer proves to be yet another avenue for investigation within. Two decades ago, Block decided to start shooting weddings for a little extra income and soon realized his privileged responsibility of documenting one of the most monumental, odd and often moving day in the lives of his subjects. Looking back with a loose reflective interview style reminiscent of fellow documentarian Allen Zweig, Block’s 112 Weddings revisits 10 couples willing to recount the lasting implications of their matrimonial decisions caught on tape, and in doing the filmmaker questions the very notion of love itself, the reasons why people choose to swear allegiance to a single so-called soul mate, and whether the implicit hardships of marriage are worth the emotional and legal investment that coincide with love.
With days worth of wedding footage to draw from, there is plenty of fantastic moments of proper pre-wedding hysteria and post-garter-tossing drunkenness to utilize, but Block knows we’ve all been to weddings ourselves, smartly employing the well known, traditional and ceremonious moments we all know too well to draw us in, imposing images of bride and groom as surrogate friends or relatives, self and spouse. These sequences of archival reminiscence are juxtaposed with today’s reflections and then contextualized by circumstances young lovers never could have anticipated. Adam and Danielle (wedding #90) have been forced to combat the crippling nature of Danielle’s depression while raising their child only child. Olivia and Dennis (wedding #49) were given the news that their 3 year old daughter had a life threatening brain tumor. After 19 years of marriage and 3 children, Sue and Steve’s (wedding #1) marriage disintegrated after Steve admitted to seeing another woman. No marriage is without hardship, and Block’s film reminds that even the average couple often is forced to face extraordinary challenges neither party could anticipate. Some manage to weather the storm, some crash on the reef and resurface alone.
Several couples who agreed to be interviewed end up having a very hard time speaking honestly about what they’ve been through together. At first, Olivia sums up her life with Dennis as an all around happy experience, completely avoiding the topic of their daughter’s illness, obviously upsetting her husband by doing so. Others, such as Jenn and Augie (wedding #71), sit before the camera awkwardly smiling, unable to freely speak their mind, trying their best to hold back the swell of emotion that untold problems still provoke.
A young, soon to be married couple, Heather and Sam (wedding #112) can only guess what life has in store for them. Their cute, pristine, and generally untested romance is in stark contrast to most of the other couples in the film who no longer feel the rush of infatuated passion that coincides with a fledgling relationship. Janice and Alexander (wedding #111), on the other hand, are just now officially sealing the deal 13 years after Block had filmed their ‘partnership ceremony’ at which they publicly celebrated their relationship, but ignored the legal contract of marriage on moral grounds. Now, with their love for one another still obviously intact, marriage makes economic sense, a reaffirmation of their devotion and a legally binding document that will cover them in medical emergencies and save them some cash when filing their taxes. Sometimes, love is not the only motivation, yet the often gaudy, sometimes deeply moving event plods on all the same.
Emulating the institution it evaluates, 112 Weddings celebrates the inherent messiness of marriage, the drunken festivities, the terrifying dilemmas that crop up in the years that follow, the exuberance of love and the topsy-turvy uncertainty that comes with the notion of forever. The two decades Block has captured within have suffered from low quality video, but it almost acts as a complement to this beautiful messiness. Simple in execution, but unmistakably rich in dialogue of the complexities of married life, Doug Block has lensed a wonderfully playful, startlingly tragic film that will surely move anyone who’s ever been in love and question anyone considering marriage themselves.
Reviewed on April 25th at the 2014 Hot Docs Film Festival – Love, Factually Program – 92 mins.