(Directed by Michael Apted, 2012)
(****+ out of 5)
> This is accomplished British director Michael Apted’s sixth biographical doc following the lives of people he first documented as a crewmember filming a BBC TV documentary about the effects of the class system in England. What started as a brief black and white examination of Britain’s deeply entrenched class system reflected in the lives of schoolchildren in 1963’s 7 UP, grew into one of the most extraordinary documentary series in the history of cinema, as the redoubtable Mr. Apted and his crew revisit the people originally profiled as schoolchildren every seven years to catch up with the arc of their lives. And I’ve seen them all- from the original through 14 UP, 21 UP, 28 UP, 35 UP, 42 UP, 49 UP– through to now. They all work individually- as snapshots of that time and the zeitgeist of that generation- but taken as a whole, each succeeding film deepens and enriches the experience.
. The capable Mr. Apted has more footage to edit with each time, making the juxtapositions more and more stark and illuminating. And the main thing that makes it all resonate with me? Born in 1956, like all the people profiled here- I am 56 years old. Though thoroughly English, these people are my peers. It’s bizarre to watch them get old and gray and fat and ugly… just like me! In my heart, I still feel like that 7 year old, romping with my classmates on the playground. In watching these films it becomes evident, that to some extent at least- most of these people feel the same way. So far- none of them have died. If the visionary documentarian Michael Apted is still alive in seven years for 63 UP- this may not be the case. It is impossible to watch this series without seeing the final chapters coming, for each person profiled. It is an astonishing spectacle to watch the progression of their lives through the decades, reflected in these filmic snapshots. Characters come and go, as they decide not to participate in one cycle, but may change their minds and return in the next.
. One cannot watch any of the films without contemplating the bigger questions in life. As such, each film rises above itself in context to the whole. Lesser chapters are sometimes more a question of the shallowness of the subject’s lives at the time than anything else. 56 UP is a pretty good installment. For all the fabled English reserve, these people were very open about their feelings (of all things!) in many disarming instances. There’s a lot of disappointment and divorce- but there is a good deal of growth and rebirth as well. Most potentially heartbreaking of the lot: the detached misfit loner Neil Hughes. A vagabond wanderer in previous incarnations, he is rooted here, and elected to local government- functioning well despite mild social disability.
. I could go on and on about the UP series… apparently! Why don’t you just move them to the top of your Netflix queue- beginning with the detached and prosaic 7 UP through the complex and nuanced 56 UP? You will be moved and entertained by the way these films reflect the unfathomable mystery of human life.
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