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26/08/2014

112 WEDDINGS

‘I’m going to devote the rest of my life to you.’ That’s kind of insane.’ A wedding, as Dennis suggests, is not a marriage. Director Doug Block made a living filming the nuptials of total strangers, and after amassing an incredible 112 of these gigs, he was finally sufficiently overcome with wondering about what happened to these couples in the years since their weddings that he decided to make a film about it. A wedding video is, of course, private, so only 11 couples agreed to appear, dissolving the preserved romantic nostalgia of the archive footage we see of their unions. While their situations are all vastly different, the singularity of the wedding ‘event’ and its estrangement from the reality of the life that follows is something clear for them all.

112 Weddings 2
Picture: vintage bridesmaid dresses

Wedding vows are designed to be an aspiration, an ideal to live up to; our culture romanticises this union as the apex of love, with a wedding often the triumphant climax to a romantic comedy, with all of the tangles of a relationship dealt with before this grand culmination of the power of love. Even if a romantic comedy has successfully presented realistic, engaging characters, the wedding reduces them to the plastic figures on top of the cake; they become emblems of everlasting love. What we see as Block revisits these couples is how the basic individuality of the human existence affects these marriages in completely unpredictable ways.

He finds Danielle crippled by depression, her husband Adam helplessly devoted to a woman who so often cannot connect with her husband. David shows Block his anti-depressant collection; as the camera sits with him, his outlandish, self-mocking personality gives way to the acres of pain and hurt inside, as he reflects on the dissolution of his marriage to Janet (who chose not to appear). Block essentially pieces together a collection of short stories about the difficulty of adult life; the lie of a wedding being that a marriage will balm all these pains because of the person you’ve chosen to be with. 112 Weddings explores both this lie and the possibility of its truth; most of the couples featured are still together, and despite the issues they’ve been through, it is often their love that has, cornily enough, kept them together.

Block’s approach to the couples is remarkably relaxed, and they seem largely at ease with discussing what are often deeply personal memories. He winds in footage of their wedding videos with gentle irony, giving an audience access to private moments in both time periods. Hearing people so openly and emotionally analyse their lives and relationship is an almost perturbing experience; like the finest documentaries, 112 Weddings reveals the brutal truth of the world we live in. But this is by no means a damning indictment of the concept of marriage; the joy and warmth of those days is still evident in the archive footage, and even in an unexpected boon Block happened upon in the present.

Janice and Alexander didn’t legally marry when Doug filmed them 13 years ago, instead undergoing a ‘partnership ceremony’ – all the trappings of an expensive and elaborate wedding, but without the legal documentation of a wedding certificate. When Block contacted them, the practicalities of their lives with their children had led them to plan a small, homebound wedding ceremony, which they allow Block to film. Even in this small, intimate, familial atmosphere, a hug instead of a kiss to seal the vows, the scene crystallises what makes a wedding something that so many people value. It is the ideal of love captured in one moment, and if there’s one thing that keeps the human race going, it’s that idea that we might find that love ourselves one day.

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