As a struggling nonfiction filmmaker, Doug Block supplemented his meager income with some highly dramatic subject matter -- weddings. By making verite portraits of the most important day in his subjects' lives, he gave them something to remember. And, occasionally, something to forget.
Twenty years later, the Port Washington native went back into his vault, revisited the films, revisited the people, and came up with "112 Weddings," which plays on HBO Monday night at 9 and offers some startling revelations: Sometimes it doesn't work out. But sometimes it does. And the hows and whys are the stuff of both good feeling and morbid fascination.
"It's a very relatable premise, obviously," Block said while en route to Nantucket and yet another film festival. "Everybody's been at a wedding where they wondered how it was going to work out. People are always curious about the marriages of other people. It hooks into something people find inherently interesting."
When he got into the wedding biz, Block said, there wasn't a lot of competition for what he was doing. "They were considered pretty cheesy at the time," he said. "I felt I had a selling point: If anyone wanted a fly-on-the-wall look at their wedding day, rather than something that would be put to music and edited down, that's what they got."
When he started working on "112 Weddings," though, it wasn't the films, or even the weddings he remembered. It was the couples, a number of whom attended a private screening recently in Manhattan.
"I think I was more nervous then than ever, having them all in one room," Block said. "I think 11 of them were there, and they were actually quite thrilled, which was fantastic. And quite a relief. You never know -- they were so candid, and their body language is so revealing. The way it was shot, I'm not sure they knew how revealing they were."
Block, whose previous films include "51 Birch Street," about his parents' marriage, said he decided early on in the "112 Weddings" process not to attempt in-depth portraits.
"After the first interview or two, something seemed right about having one interview and getting a quick snapshot, not pretending to get the 'truth' of their marriage," he said. "You could be there a year and not get any closer." He also got a lot of cooperation. "I was in a unique position. I'd shot their weddings, they trusted me, we'd formed a strange bond and when I went back, they remembered me, they opened up their homes. And their marriages. I think getting nine different snapshots added up to, I hope, a bigger picture."
Block has been married for 28 years to Marjorie A. Silver, a professor at the Touro Law Center in Central Islip. So who shot their wedding?
"Nobody shot our wedding!" Block said, laughing. "Are you crazy? You think I'd let a video guy shoot our wedding?"