The Kids Grow Up [Full Frame 2010]

If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll likely know that I recently gave The Best Girlfriend Ever a Flip Camera for her birthday.  We’d talked about buying one for a while, in particular so that we can document an upcoming trip to Spain, but once I had a chance to play with the camera (here’s one recent effort), I found myself increasingly drawn to filming, recording even the most banal moments of everyday life.  But even though I enjoy playing with the camera, I’m conscious of how it shapes my experience these events, simultaneously saving their representation for later while also potentially distancing me from participating in the event itself, in real time, as it’s happening.  The Flip Camera, which is about the size of a cell phone, helps diminish that sense of distanciation, but no matter what, the camera’s presence shapes my interaction with the people I’m filming.

Playing with the camera in recent days has left me thinking about the genre of personal documentary, in particular Doug Block’s most recent film, The Kids Grow Up, a follow-up to his prior film, 51 Birch Street.  In The Kids Grow Up, Block traces the evolution of his relationship with his daughter (and only child), Lucy, as she finishes high school and prepares for college.  During an opening scene, Block comments that “nothing prepares you for letting go,” and The Kids Grow Up serves as his cinematic testament to that sentiment.  In conversations with his wife and Lucy, Block is forced to confront his own ambivalence about his daughter leaving home.  At the same time, although Lucy complies with his requests to appear on camera, she is also, quite often, a recalcitrant subject, demanding privacy during certain key conversations, both out of a sense of privacy and out of a desire for an unmediated relationship with her father.  The film traces a number of important coming-of-age moments: looking for colleges, meeting a new boyfriend, meeting a college roommate.  Throughout the film, we are made conscious that Block is filming, and the camera becomes the subject of many of the film’s conversations (and, sometimes, arguments), but at the same time, we often see Lucy making choices about self-presentation because of her awareness that she will later be watched.

Watching the film, quite naturally, reminded me of my own relationship with my girlfriend’s kids, who are both teenagers and will soon be leaving home, and although Block depicts an experience that might be familiar to many of us–the excitement (and difficulty) of watching a child grow up–he presents it in an honest and refreshing way. Like Anthony Kaufman, I appreciated Block’s approach to his subject.  As he points out, “Even though the film is ostensibly autobiographical, he focuses his lens on his daughter, his wife, and everyone else around him, which saves the project from navel-gazing.”  Because of the care Block uses in depicting his subject, The Kids Grow Up is a subtle, personal meditation, not only on the experiences of parenting but also on our contemporary habits of documenting those experiences, whether to hold onto them–and relish them forever–or simply to make sense of them.

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