What’s ‘Up’?

Michael Apted’s life affirming documentary series continues

It’s time once again for the latest in Michael Apted’s “Up” series, a documentary project begun in 1964 with a group of seven year-olds from all across England. Every seven years, Apted revisits his subjects and records how the passing time has affected them. As with the other films in the series, the new “49 Up” includes footage from all previous entries so that we can see how the interviewees have changed. (Unfortunately, the new footage is shot on splotchy digital video.)

Over the series, many of the subjects have moved, changed jobs, married, divorced and had children. But in the seven years since “42 Up” (released here in 2000), the tidal wave of change has slowed. Most couples that were married in the last film are still married, though many now enjoy grandchildren.

Apted’s subjects have become savvier about the overall effect of the film. Some of them confess feeling uncomfortable watching the films and rebuke Apted about his interviewing techniques. One subject, John (a barrister), compares the series to a bad reality TV show, but confesses that his minor fame has helped him in his business affairs.

Unlike reality TV, however, the “Up” series has integrity. American reality TV is almost always based on some kind of competition or, less often, on pure spectacle. None of the “Up” subjects have been kicked off the island, nor have they eaten scorpions or used their heads for bowling balls.

No, the most fascinating thing is to watch the aging process, and more importantly, the evolving thought process. Very often an interviewee’s immediate feelings do not translate across the years. In each new film the subjects have adapted to everything that’s happened to them. Scientist Nick recently had to abandon his life’s work when an energy containment system failed. But now we find him rebounding, searching for something new.

It’s a real testament to just how fluid and undefined life really is. Ultimately, the mission statement of “49 Up” shouldn’t be “Child is father to the man,” but rather John Lennon’s lyric: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Which brings us to the movie’s most fascinating and unpredictable character, Neil. In various entries, Neil has been homeless, on the verge of insanity and,then, suddenly, working as a small-time politician. Without giving anything away, Neil has once again performed a 180-degree turn, and — through the story of a butterfly — provides some of the film’s most lasting wisdom.

Movie review

49 Up ????

Documentary

Directed by Michael Apted

Unrated

Running time 2 hours, 15 minutes

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