Tag Archive: Seven Up!

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been watching Michael Apted’s ground-breaking Up Series from its first installments, you know each new chapter in the real-life time travel journey makes the viewer feel like he or she has also reached some kind of achievement with the arrival of the new episode.  But the series of documentaries is not for the faint-hearted, filled with gut-wrenching views into participants’ lives, participants who feel like family after watching them over 56 years since their first appearance.  So compelling and personal is Apted’s look at this select group of fourteen English boys and girls turned men and women, revisiting them every seven years of their lives since 1964, the documentary series is practically an interactive experience.  With Apted passing away since the UK premiere last year, and the U.S. arrival of the latest installment–the eagerly awaited 63 Up arriving on BritBox via Amazon Prime this weekend–the question is whether this ninth installment is the last.  Key members of the crew since 28 Up have expressed an interest in continuing the series in 2027, but until then expect this to be a bittersweet end for the series, which Roger Ebert called the noblest project in cinema history and among the ten best films ever made.

At last Apted addresses the thesis of the show to each participant, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” and asks whether they agree after decades participating in this unique social experiment.  Apted was a researcher when working on director Paul Almond’s Seven Up! in 1964.  Seven years later the well-known director of Gorillas in the Mist, The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorky Park, was just out of university, and at 22 he revisited the original Seven Up! project.  He would go on to direct the subsequent eight episodes over 56 years.  The idea was to get a glimpse of England in the future year 2000 when these kids, the future leaders of England, were only seven years old.  It is difficult to surpass the jolts and surprises of 42 Up, but 63 Up holds its own, although sadly viewers will say goodbye to one participant who has died, another is seriously ill, and another decided not to participate.

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If you were asked to determine what single piece of film should be put in a time machine to preserve what it means to be human for future generations, or to send a synopsis along with a new Voyager space probe to a distant world so they could learn about us, what would you select?  For me, there is one documentary series that rivals all other documentaries and non-documentaries alike, that required so much thought, cooperation, and coordination over the years that it is amazing it was even possible.  That series is Michael Apted’s Up Series.  At a basic level, this true life tale of class and social inequality may very well be the closest we ever get to time travel.

Roger Ebert has called the series “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium.  No other art form can capture so well the look in an eye, the feeling in an expression, the thoughts that go unspoken between the words.  To look at these films, as I have every seven years, is to meditate on the astonishing fact that man is the only animal that knows it lives in time.”  It’s also on his list of the 10 best films of all time.

In May, British TV released 56 Up, the eighth installment of the Up Series, the reflections on the 56th year of the life of a group of 14 British citizens first chronicled in 1964 in Granada Television’s film for the BBC titled Seven Up! directed by Paul Almond.  A researcher who helped select the original 20 seven-year-olds for the project, Michael Apted, came back every seven years thereafter to interview as many of the original students who were available and interested in participating. The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit saying “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

The series is probably the most important film ever made, simply because it is a camera’s eye on real-life people discussing every day life over the entire course of their lives.  Fans worldwide have eagerly awaited each episode, and it is truly the first reality series ever made, and with that has come the good and the bad.  The good is allowing the participants themselves to see how they have changed over the years and allowing us to share in that.  The bad is the antics of fans of any subject, made up of ongoing questions:  Who will participate next time?  Who has prospered?  Who has had hard luck?

The scrutiny has apparently affected the participants in many ways.  One installment suggests the negative light in which one man’s wife was viewed in a prior installment may have led to a divorce.  Members have dropped out, and come back again later as their perspectives on the series changed, one man helped another who was in trouble, another shot from homeless person to a surprising role in politics.  Apted has commented in recent years that he wished they had included more women, and that they initial intentionally pulled participants from the extremes of society.

Worldwide, those who watch the series find they much watch all prior installments–it is very addictive.  You also note commonality, such as participants experiencing bouts of family death all in the same year span of their lives (just as would happen with others throughout society).  You also find yourself cheering for the success of each person, or maybe the person you most relate to, in subsequent installments.  The participants have been a mix of commoners to a taxi driver to professors and politicians, consisting of Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk and Tony Walker.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can stream the series now up to 49 Up.  And it’s available at Amazon.com.  It’s engrossing, engaging, and addictive.  Once you start, plan on watching it all.

As for 56 Up, Americans will have to wait a bit longer, although it is expected that niche arthouse theaters will be showing 56 Up on the big screen across the country by year end.  We can’t wait!

C.J. Bunce

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