Sunday, July 7, 2013

FI: 56 Up

56 Up
United Kingdom, 2012
Directed by Michael Apted and Paul Almond (archive footage, 7 Up)

What's left to say about this incredible series of documentaries that hasn't already been said about the previous entries? As the Up series stretches on into late middle age, so too do the group of everyday Britons Michael Apted and his crew have visited every seven years since 1964. What started as an examination of privilege and opportunity in England's rigid class system has long since turned into a unique, must-watch look at life itself, seen through the eyes of a generation as it matures, struggles, ages, and perseveres through the challenges of education, marriage, work, parenthood, and grandparenthood.

Needless to say, the cumulative effect of the series is muted if you haven't seen them all—though the generally well-edited mix of prior footage and present-day interviews might be sufficient for new viewers to create a mental sketch, only seeing the whole in order can give you the full picture. The films are not without their controversies: the filmmakers have clearly attempted to insert their own narratives over the course of the series, and the participants themselves have always been free to accept or fight against their originally-perceived roles. Most of them view the series less as a narcissistic personal showcase (unlike, say, today's reality TV casts) then as a dreaded obligation, or an opportunity to boost the signal of their pet projects and causes. Apted's questions can sometimes seem impertinent, and his editorial control can sometimes make for heavy-handed parallels. But as a catalog of human life, of aging, of shifting priorities and ambitions dented, deferred and defeated—or, occasionally, achieved—there's simply nothing like this series. It may not be scientific, or even fully representative of the all the nation's voices—let alone those it depicts—but as a living social document, there is much it can teach.

For the first time since the series's fourth installment, 56 Up features all of the participants (save Charles Furneaux, who has refused to participate since 21 Up and seems unlikely to ever return). Now, as the participants settle into a middle age that's rapidly turning golden, most of them have become more reflexive, more willing to criticize themselves, the series, and the state of the world. One of the benefits of the series's timescale is how it allows the series to show the impact world events—this time, the great recession—have had on the various characters and their families. But, ultimately, the greatest pleasure that 56 Up offers isn't academic or sociological, but emotional and nostalgic: a chance to check in with people we've come to care about, to see how they've aged, and to measure our own lives against theirs. After all, every seven years they age is another seven years for us, as well...

No comments:

Post a Comment