Whenever you make a personal doc, you have to brace for people ripping you, and sometimes in a very personal way. I’m still amazed that so few slings and arrows have come my way for ’51 Birch Street’ over the years. But with ‘The Kids Grow Up’ opening this Friday in NY, I’m steeling myself again, and probably with more reason.
It’s one thing to put your parents under the probing lens of your camera, quite another to put your young daughter there. So I’m gonna get shots taken at me. In fact, I already have (for the record, Doug Block does like his daughter Lucy). Luckily, I also have my strong supporters.
But one important thing is that the shots will come at me and not Lucy (or so I’d like to believe). Another is that I not only made exactly the film I wanted to make, but that Lucy is still speaking to me. Quite often, in fact, thank you.
One thing I promised myself was that before the film opened theatrically I’d have some kind of response from Lucy posted on our website. And happily, before she went back to college in August, she sat down with me (and my camera) and did a 45-minute interview about her reaction to the film and to being the subject of an intensely personal film by her dad. I should add that it was the first time I shot with Lucy since the end of filming three years ago.
The video is intended for the DVD extras of ‘The Kids,’ at least that’s the plan. But I want to give Lucy a platform before then, so the following is an excerpt from the first few minutes of the interview, very lightly edited for better clarity.
Doug: What did you make of the film when you saw it?
Lucy: Well, I saw it a lot of times. So…
D: Okay, so, let’s go back to the first time you ever saw it.
L: Was that the time that you showed me stuff just to make sure I was comfortable with it?
D: Uh huh. That was Christmas break, your freshman year. I put together…
L: So…I was fine with it then, everything that was in there. I think that’s when I found out some of the shocking things Mom had said about her depression. Like, when she had suicidal thoughts, so that was very emotional, and I cried a lot, but I was fine with everything that was in there. And then we watched it when you were in LA and you visited me at school, and you showed me whatever early cut you had in my room, and there was the stuff about me and Roman, and I had never known…I mean you had never expressed anything about being uncomfortable with me having my boyfriend come and stay with us, and I was really shocked seeing what went in the movie, that whole sequence about your discomfort with him being there and us having sex, and it was just extremely uncomfortable to watch that with you. And I also had no idea if you really felt that uncomfortable about it or if you were trying to play that up for the movie.
D: Would you have been as embarrassed if I hadn’t been there [with you when you were] watching it for the first time, if you’d just seen it by yourself?
L: No, I wouldn’t have been as tense as I was, but I still would have been really worried about other people watching it. I mean, our family’s watching it, people who I would never want to think about me in that context, you know?
D: Yeah. My recollection is that you were just…that you were mostly upset about the shot of [me lurking outside] your door. And that you wanted me to…
L: I was upset about that, I was upset about the whole thing though.
D: Yeah, but that you wanted me to cut that shot out.
L: You put it in there as something kind of funny. Right?
D: I thought it was amusing, but I was thinking of it in terms of an audience and I wasn’t thinking of the impact so much on you. And then when you reacted the way you did I went, uh-oh, that’s not good, and what can I do to make it better, for you. And I went and changed it to the hallway shot.
L: And I couldn’t talk to you, I couldn’t even talk to you about it, it was just too much…
D: Yeah, I know.
L: …to deal with.
D: I know.
L: But it’s easier to deal with when I think about it in terms of you trying to make a funny story, or you’re trying to fit it in with this larger story of your not being okay with me growing up and getting older.
D: Do you think you’ll ever get to the point where you’ll understand what I was trying to do with it?
L: I understand what you were trying to do with it.
D: And feel okay with it. I mean, I know you understand it, but you’re the butt of the joke.
L: I mean, it’s okay, like, we’ve made peace about the whole movie, I’m okay with the movie as a whole, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel…well, yeah, maybe in a few years I’ll feel comfortable watching that with whoever and just not feel embarrassed, but it’s pretty embarrassing.
D: Have you been able to separate yourself out? When you watch it, do you see a character on the screen, or do you see you and re-experience it again?
L: I’ve been able to separate myself from it more as time goes on, but I still don’t see myself as a character. I don’t see it as a movie with characters. I get…I can watch it through the lens of how were you trying to make this movie and what kind of story were you trying to tell. But I still don’t see myself as a character.
D: What’s it like seeing yourself on screen?
L: Well, I don’t think I really expressed myself very much. I don’t think I said very much at all, it’s kind of painful. I think it’s painful for a lot of people to watch themselves talk on video or to be recorded, they just think they sound like an idiot. For a lot of it I just don’t think I sound very smart, and for a lot of what you were filming, I wasn’t trying to open up about anything, so…
D: But that’s appropriate.
L: You did a pretty good job of getting as much content out of me as you could, I don’t think there was that much to work with that year that you filmed. I think you used pretty much everything you could use.
D: I wasn’t just using that year; I was using stuff I shot over your whole life.
L: Right, but I think you had to. I don’t think I said very much to you on camera that whole year.
D: But that was always the intention, was to mix it in with stuff from the past.
L: Right, but wouldn’t it have been nice if I’d answered the questions that you asked me?
D: No. Not necessarily, because I think kids don’t generally open up to their parents. I think it would have been really downright weird if you answered…
L: I could have said a little bit more.
D: I think you said a lot.
L: …instead of just clamming up.
D: But I think you say a lot by clamming up. I think people read into the silences, they read into the evasions.
L: Yeah, maybe. So, what did you want when you asked me to film? What were you hoping I’d say? There must have been something you wanted to get out of me.
D: No, honestly, when I ask…just like now, I’m interviewing you now. I’m not…
L: Well I feel like now I’m giving you, I’m answering you, I didn’t answer you before.
D: I’m not looking for you to say anything in particular. I’m asking questions.
L: You don’t think I made it hard for you?
D: No. Well, I understand that in a sense I hold the power here because, in the end, I edit. And I feel like my responsibility as a filmmaker is to portray you as honestly as I can, and if that means you’re evading what I’m saying, I put it in there because I think that’s honest, and that’s what teenagers do. And I actually think that’s what teenagers should do, I mean that’s what I did as a teenager; I didn’t tell my parents anything. I mean, not that they asked. But I don’t sit here going, God, I wish she’d said this or that, I mostly go, wow, that was great. Almost any reaction that you have on camera seems really interesting to me, because I don’t think you’re…
L: You remember all those times you asked me to film and I said no…Weren’t you disappointed?
D: Well, I wasn’t disappointed I just thought it was curious. But that’s fine, I mean, I’m not…you seem to think that I have this agenda, and that I’m looking for you to say something, like I’ve pre-scripted it. And that’s not how documentaries work, at least not good ones I think. I think it’s just a matter of being curious about you…
L: Maybe I’m just super cynical about the documentary making process.
D: Yeah, I think you are, and maybe rightfully so, but I think it’s a process and it’s an exploration, and it’s just like life in the sense that if we were just…
L: Yeah…I seem to remember you being really frustrated about how little I would let you shoot.
D: Well, always when you’re making a documentary, you want to shoot more. As much as possible, and more is better than less, so at the time, it may well have been frustrating, but you sort of take what you can get, too.