I spent a good chunk of the past two days searching and searching and searching the bowels of this blog because I could have SWORN that I'd written about the Up documentary series before. But if I did, that post has been sacrificed to the Blogger demons and I just can't find it. It's gonna drive me nuts.
Since I can't reference the post I thought I wrote in order to give you some background, let me start out by saying that the Up series is — by far — one of the best, if not THE best, film-viewing experiences of my life. It has affected me profoundly, and I think it will do the same for you, which is why I chose to not only fire up this long-neglected site today, but also promote a competitor's product (56 Up is now in select theaters, but Netflix has all of the past Up movies on DVD and Instant (as you guys all know, I've been a freelance writer for Redbox since 2008) Also, since I first posted this an hour ago, others have let me know that the past installments are often at public libraries as well).
The series began in 1964, when a British filmmaker decided to test out the maxim "Give me the boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man." Ten seven-year-old boys and four seven-year-old girls were interviewed that year to establish their attitudes about certain issues, their dreams and their life plans, and then these same individuals were revisited every seven years since to see how they've changed and how things actually turned out.
TOTALLY AMAZINGLY, all but one of them have remained a part of this grand cinematic experiment for nearly half a century. (And happy spoiler alert: they're all still alive, which I guess is also pretty amazing.) The great irony is that the one guy who dropped out, Charles Furneaux, went on to become a documentary producer himself.
My hope is that the interviewees will want to continue on after that point, too. The series was enormously popular in Britain, and the participants experienced a strange sort of fame. Almost all of them have struggled with how their "characters" have been depicted, and they clearly have a strong love/hate relationship with the project — and I'm sure with Apted himself to some extent.
Despite the negatives that have come with the series for the thirteen participants, after watching 56 Up my husband and I were talking about how cool it would be to have your life documented in this way. What a gift these people have for their children, their friends and their other family members! And really, themselves, too. How many of us would jump at the chance to see and hear what we were like at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and 56? To be reminded what we thought about the issues of the day and what are dreams were at that point in time? It would be nothing short of extraordinary. It's not the same as home videos.
So now I guess I better talk a little bit about why I feel so strongly about the Up series, besides the Cool Factor mentioned above.
I love these movies because — for the most part — they radiate a sense of hope, a sense of peace, a sense of happiness, and a sense that everything's going to work out. However, they accomplish this in a way that is very much NOT what the original filmmaker planned. He seemed to be out to prove that a British family's educational, class and social standing would ultimately determine how their children ended up. That's true for some of the participants, but couldn't be further from the truth for others—coming from money didn't always guarantee happiness, and growing up poor didn't always prevent success. Luck, determination, optimism and personality have played HUGE roles in the interviewees' lives. Perhaps they, too, have realized this at age 56, because few of them have any real regrets (even when what's happened to them isn't all rainbows and puppy dogs). The general sense seems to be "I've done the best I could, and for the most part I'm happy."
One of the most memorable interviewees is Tony, whose boundless energy has hardly waned since he was a wee lad. Here is a person who had big dreams, went after them, and achieved almost all of them despite great odds. But he's not perfect, and his many personal and professional missteps have been documented right along with his achievements.
|Tony through the years|
Then there's Neil—one of my favorites from the original installment—who was just a bundle of personality at age seven. But at some point before he turned 21, things went horribly off track. His is the most concerning of the updates in 56 Up, though my hope is that he's currently more content than he lets on.
|Neil, now and then|
You don't need to see all of the other films first because they recap the life story of each of the interviewees and show clips from all of the previous Up films ... BUT I think if you have some time, I would do everything you can to at least try to catch a few of the early installments beforehand. It would be hard to have much of an emotional connection to the group otherwise. Though make no mistake, if all you can make time for is to only see 56 Up, do it. It will still be an incredible and moving experience.
If you're here in Chicago, 56 Up is playing at the beloved Music Box Theatre all week.
If you're not in Chicago, you can see when 56 Up is coming to a theater near you here.
I'd love to hear from anyone who's watched any of the Up installments. Are you as obsessed with them as I am?
|A trio of friends from the series|