As filmmaker Doug Block sat in a coffee shop talking about his "112 Weddings" documentary, a stranger interrupted him to talk — at great length — about the state of her marriage.
She wasn't even aware of the film, which debuts Monday on HBO (9 p.m. EDT). The conversation she eavesdropped on enthralled her. As Block gets more exposure for "112 Weddings," during which he revisits couples for whom he shot wedding videos to ask how marriage has gone, he'd better get used to such interactions.
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The New York-based Block has made wedding videos to earn extra money, and sensed from the beginning there was a film there. He made sure to retain ownership of wedding footage, although he doesn't use it without permission of the couples.
"I loved the idea of starting a movie where most Hollywood movies end, which is the bride coming down the aisle," said Block, who has delved into personal topics for his work before. He made a film about his parents' marriage and another about the empty nest syndrome when his daughter left for college (she's now, at 24, back home).
He knew the time was right when he called Janice and Alexander Caillet of Newton, Massachusetts, who talked at length about why they didn't need the official sanction of a marriage when Block filmed their "commitment ceremony." Thirteen years later, they were getting married.
Janice and Alexander believed their word to each other was a strong enough commitment for many years. Once they had children, the legal advantages became apparent. "We wanted to make sure that nothing was going to keep us apart," Janice said. "We didn't need anything to keep us together."
Some of the marriages ended in divorce. One couple has struggled to care for a sick child, another has hung on through the wife's depression. Children and job pressures take a toll, and the relationships ebb and flow. Block focuses on 10 couples, including No. 112 as they prepared for their wedding.
When he called the couple from his first wedding video, Sue Odierna of Mamaroneck, New York, had filed for divorce the day before. The clips from the wedding seemed to foreshadow trouble: Sue seemed a lot more excited than Steve, who later grew distant and found someone new. The more weddings he shot, though, Block said he was less able to predict which couples would last.
Most couples were filmed as they sat side-by-side talking about their marriages, an interesting dynamic in itself. Block tried not to take advantage of the intimacy involved. When he asked one couple what they would say now if they rewrote their vows, there was a 22-second pause before the woman said, "next question." He left it out of the film because it felt like a cheap shot.
Interestingly, he asked all the couples if they felt they'd married their soul mates, and none said yes. Some joked about it, saying it was a lovely concept. Clearly, the dewy-eyed days are over.
"The film stresses that marriage is hard, that it takes work," Block said. "People see that as a negative, that it's a bad thing. But it's not.
"Life is going to throw things at you," he said. "People get old and die. Kids are born and grow up and leave. You face layoffs or success. There are all sorts of challenges that you come up against together, and how you deal with them as a couple determines whether you're going to make it or not. The idea that it's going to be an easy path is ridiculous."
The Caillets believe that "112 Weddings" should be required viewing for couples approaching their own wedding.
"It's a pretty sobering wake-up call for so many people," said Alexander Caillet. "You're so enthralled from dating, but it's really a commitment."
Hard work, challenges, commitment — it all sounds like buzzkill for someone young and in love.
The film ultimately celebrates marriage and the passing of time. And it renewed Block's appreciation for his wife of 28 years.
"I am one lucky dude," he said.
David Bauder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.