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Tag Archive: Up Series


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Review by C.J. Bunce

Michael Apted’s ground-breaking Up Series is almost interactive in its immersion of the viewer into the lives of 14 children from the lower and upper classes of London as they grow and spread across the world over the next 50 years.  At the beginning of the first documentary from 1964, 7 Up, the purpose of the first show was revealed:

“Why do we bring these children together?  Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000.  The union leader and the business executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old.” 

The initial episode interviewed the children about their thoughts and dreams.  The children ranged from lower class kids, some who appeared sad and distant yet hopeful, to the kids from wealthier means who seemed almost prescient of their lives’ future paths.  Seven years later Michael Apted, the now 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 7 Up project.  From there he has returned to interview and share with us the status of these people every seven years in this unique time-capsule-meets-time-travel voyage.  In June 2012 the eagerly awaited 56 Up revealed what had happened to everyone in the intervening seven years to television audiences in its principal release in England.  First Run Features began a limited release of 56 Up in the States and Canada last month and this weekend the broader distribution begins in movie theaters across North America.  Check our earlier article here to find out about local movie listings of 56 Up in your area.

Peter returns to 56 Up

Thanks to First Run Features, borg.com was given a special screening of 56 Up this week.  We’re happy to report that just as fans of Apted’s work have come to expect, 56 Up stands up to its prior entries. The gut-wrenching feeling as you watched the rollercoaster ride of certain individuals’ experiences from past episodes is happily less present as the Up crew reaches 56 years of age.  Where the past two installments carried underlying themes of encountering traumas of life, like divorce and deaths of family members, we can glean from the older and wiser individuals a universal view of happiness and maybe tranquility now, an acceptance of self, and less real regrets about past decisions throughout their lives than discussed before.  That isn’t to say that the impacts of a typical daily life, including a devastating UK recession, are not very real to the subjects of the film.  Yet despite some participants now caring for adult children and even their grandchildren, living on government aid, and encountering other negative changes of circumstance, when asked  by Apted even the most challenged of the group are thankful for what they have.

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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
Editor
borg.com