Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Up Series

In 1964, British filmmaker Michael Apted chose an assorted group of English 7-year-olds to film and chronicles their lives every 7 years. Now, those "kids" are 49 years old. I had seen some of these “episodes” many years ago but had never saw the 1964 version and certainly hadn’t seen 49 and UP. So over the last month or so I watched all the whole 7 and Up series. And, believe me, it is fascinating. You can’t wait to put in the next DVD and find out they are doing at 21 or 42. It’s reality TV at its finest. I think Apted had some preconceived ideas what he would reveal about England and the class system when he started the series, and while many of his hypothesis held true (like the upper crust will follow a plan laid out for them with private schools etc. and the East enders will never make it out of dead end jobs), the most fascinating revelations were those “kids” who broke out their mold.
The most successful lives were the ones who possessed a mixture of practicality and drive. And I am defining successful as those who had good marriages or raised happy children or were satisfied with their lives. One of my favorites was this scrappy little ruffian, Tony, who at 21 one said that all that mattered, “was mom and dad and love.” And I don’t want to give away what happens to all of them because that’s where the suspense comes in but Tony was an example of someone who has amazing resources and ambitions and a lot of love. Tony isn’t the only captivating character of the bunch. There’s feisty fellow East Ender Jackie, sad-eyed Paul, compassionate Bruce, and the future physicist Nick who ends up in Madison Wisconsin of all places. And the most, I don’t know the word, maybe heartbreaking or thoughtful, or unpredictable of all the kids is Neil, who at 7 skips across the street with glee.
One thing that is kind of annoying is the repeat of the earlier footage at each stage. I did some skipping of that when I watched it on DVD. I watched the last bit on Netflix instant play, so I was not able to skip ahead. Also, sure, Apted is a manipulative film maker, he presents the “kids” as he sees them, but I like how he occasionally gets called to task by one of his subjects. Jackie really gives him an earful in 49 and Up.
So if you’ve got some time on your hands and want to watch one of the most fascinating documentaries that I’ve ever watched, give The Up series a shot.

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