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The Boys of 2nd Street Park (2003)

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Five men recall their childhoods in the 1960s.







Credited cast:
Bernie Bandman ...
Frankie Bass ...
Larry Brown ...
Bobby Feld ...
Brian Newmark ...
Madelyne Ryterband ...
Steve Satin ...


A group of guys, born working-class around 1949, grow up friends playing basketball at the Second Street Park in Brooklyn. Through contemporary interviews and archival footage, they look back on their growing up. Teen camaraderie gives way to seeking personal fulfillment and, in the 1960s and 70s, drug use. As young adults, several make a trip across the U.S.; one finds happiness in rural, upstate New York. One fights in Vietnam. One is murdered in 1975, probably over drugs. A few become professionals. By 2000, at least two have lost a child, there's rue and regret, and there's the enjoyment of returning to the basketball court at the park for a reunion game. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for drug content and some language



Release Date:

21 January 2003 (USA)  »

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A Piercing Look at a Troubled Generation
4 April 2004 | by See all my reviews

Don Klores and Ron Berger's "The Boys of 2nd Street Park" struck chords of memories for me, some pleasant, others grating. The co-directors of this outstanding documentary recount the lives of six men and the former wife of one of them, all originally from Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood. The interviewees aren't that much younger than me. Their story is part of the kaleidescope of a time that segued from a sometimes stereotypical normalcy for a city kid to a strident, confusing and polarizing period. And that's my time too.

This is emphatically a male story. As one of the subjects states, he doesn't know to this day what girls of his generation did for play. His focus, and that of everyone interviewed in the film, is about growing up as a guy in Brighton Beach.

Urban parks are very important. Often they are, along with the not too safe streets, the places where kids can unwind, form lifelong bonds and test barriers. Living in cramped, unairconditioned apartments, these oases were central to a boy's social (for which read sports) life. For most New York kids who grew up from the forties through the sixties, a city park didn't mean Central Park or Riverside Park. Parks were nearby asphalt playgrounds, often just large enough for several basketball courts and the usual swings, ladders and seesaw boards.

The park in this film is right by the boardwalk and beach bordering the Atlantic Ocean. I grew up near what we thought, with local pride and the arrogance of the young, was the "better" beach a few miles away, Rockaway with its similar boardwalk and park culture. Any New Yorker from my generation will recognize the 2nd Street Park as a Gotham staple without knowing its name or location.

The men relate their lives from childhood to the present in well-edited interviews interspersed with documentary footage and photos of everything from local basketball games to the Vietnam War and the culture that was buffeted by many changes and challenges.

At first the documentary appears to be one more exploration of childhood adventures and misadventures related by nostalgic older men. And these guys - apparently all Jewish and from a neighborhood with many survivors of the Holocaust - talk initially about their early youth. Then, very quickly, a darker side emerges from the skilled film-makers' vision. As one director remarks in an interview on the DVD, he never actually intended the film to be solely a reminiscence of playgrounds and boys' bonding.

The child's life of makeshift games and wholesome competition elides into the fracture of an unpopular war and the emergence of a counterculture that wreaked more havoc, in my unchanging view, than it did any good. And central to that phenomenon was a destructive subculture of drugs smoked, ingested and injected within an ersatz community in which individuality, including making ethical choices based on personal values, was subordinated to the likes of a group-think rarely before experienced in America.

The men here, to a larger or smaller degree, bought into that culture with results, for at least one of them, that were disastrous. All were on at least the outskirts of a criminal drug world and one interviewee still becomes emotional describing a loved member of the cohort who ended up murdered in a sleeping bag by persons unknown, undoubtedly because he got in too deep for his own good.

Two members of the loose Brooklyn fraternity had a child die in their arms of leukemia and it's difficult to hear their recounting of so awful a happening. While all are doing well today, it's obvious that their immersion in a shaken world at least sidetracked their lives and perhaps foreshortened their ambitions.

The only woman interviewed was wed to one of the men for nine months before the marriage was annulled. She mentions she was a virgin when they married but before long she was sleeping with her husband's best friend and, clearly, others. He's still bitter about what he described as a betrayal that he tried to rationalize as a valid free choice exercise at the time. She's remarried, he's gone through a second marital breakup. They meet at the end of the film. Their affection for each other clearly survives decades of separate and very different lives. She's quite candid - and insightful - in recognizing that the counterculture was very bad for her vulnerable husband but did some good things for her. Very bad, indeed. He was on drugs for twenty-three years.

"The Boys of 2nd Street Park" may highlight a discrete microcosm of a generation but it's easy to forget that the overwhelming majority of that age group didn't lose their lives to drugs nor did most young men buy college degrees from a fake rabbinical school or get a psychiatrist to falsely certify them as unfit for military duty. Some of these fellows did one or more of those things.

A few of the men here were, at least for a time, lost. Others were simply skilled at making the most of the situations they encountered. Taken together, the film portrays a segment of a generation of boys and young men growing up in a Brooklyn where their park remains a central part of the lives of the current crop of neighborhood youth. Ethnicities shift but core needs don't.

The special features include interesting interviews with the co-directors and several deleted scenes worth viewing.


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