Nearly everyone has memories of their own special childhood retreat. Whether it was a secret spot only you knew about or whether it was a favorite place for the whole gang to hang out, these special places stick in our memories, often becoming more idealized with each passing year. For the young boys growing up in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, that special place was the 2nd Street Park. Described in co-director Dan Klores’ and Ron Berger’s unabashedly nostalgic documentary “The Boys of 2nd Street Park” as a “magic kingdom,” the park’s chain link fenced basketball court was the epicenter for such innocent activities as pick-up basketball or stickball games and just general hanging out.
The directors bring their beloved park to life through a collection of interviews with the grown men who graced the park back in the 1950s, home movie footage, and still photos. More than just a snapshot of the ’50s era, however, the film also tracks the lives of these boys, following their stories as they grew up and apart through the drugs and tragic turmoil of the 1960s and on up to the present.
There’s nothing particularly special about any of the men featured in “The Boys of 2nd Street Park”…which is exactly what makes the film so poignant and fascinating. By showing how widely diverse the lives of the men had become, men whom all had the park in common as boys, this film serves as a microcosm of sorts; a multi-faceted exploration of life in America.
The two biggest problems here are related. First off, the film simply covers too many people. As such, the viewer spends too much time and energy trying to keep all the participants and their stories straight, rather than becoming totally absorbed in a smaller number of characters and anecdotes. Similarly the film’s tendency to introduce relatively minor participants late in the film adds to this confusion.
That said, “The Boys of 2nd Street Park” is not only a nostalgic trip through a long-gone American era, but also an intriguing piece of Americana in general.