It is not quite a 50th Birthday invitation, but as most of the original cast of the landmark documentary 7 Up, approach the big 5-0, we are invited back into their lives to celebrate their most recent trials and tribulations in Michael Apted's 49 Up. It was the Up series that launched Apted's career, and he now has some thirty titles under his belt, including James Bond: The World Is Not Enough and Gorilla's in the Midst. The Up series began in 1964 as a sociological experiment. Apted, armed with a video camera, set out see if life was pre ordained for children by the class they were born into. To test this concept, 14 children of the same age, but born into varying social strata's were filmed interacting together at a zoo. The Up series is credited with paving the way for other historically important screen documentaries. It is remarkable in itself that Apted has managed to keep track of the original, and willing Up participants. As her revisits them every 7 years, the footage from these lengthy interviews is what makes up the series. By 49 Up, the 'class outcomes' are put to bed. Apted should be credited for moving beyond the class wars, and choosing to focus on journey and personal growth of his participants as the greatest mark of achievement. This was summed up beautifully by a UK movie buff: "in a real sense, all are successful, when we define success as finding fulfillment in where you are and in what you do." The greatest success story and Apted's own personal favourite is the story of Neil. After learning of Neil's stints of homelessness, and battle with mental illness, fellow Up participant Bruce, threw him a life line 7 years ago by offering Neil a place to stay and then went about helping him get on his feet. Now, Neil lives independently with a fixed address and is running for town mayor. Most participants have something inspiring and surprising in their stories. Even John Brisby, who features in 49 Up as a prominent lawyer, has lived his life very much like her predicted when he was a child. When we meet John at age 7, he was apparently reading the Financial Times, was most concerned about schools becoming free, fearing they would become 'terribly crowded.' He had aspirations of attending Cambridge and becoming a lawyer. So in 49 Up it was a touch ironic that he had committed a large portion of his life to building free schools in Bulgaria and working to improve the medical system. His reasoning to appear in 49 Up was to 'raise awareness on a greater platform'. The tearful admission of tough but lovable Lyn Johnson about her loosing fight to stabilize funding for her work she does with disabled children will touch all, and hopefully mobilize the relevant agencies to do something about it. What is also surprising is how media savvy both Lyn and John have become to use the series to further their own causes. On a lighter note, little Tony, the knockabout kid from the east end who wanted to be a jockey, is now Tony the owner driver of a cab, grandfather and , has a villa in Spain as well as his home in London. He has done some acting work thanks to the Up series, and his honest and welcoming account of his last 7 years is a highlight. However, my favorite is still Bruce, for no prolific reason. You'll have a favourite by the end too. 49 Up intended to be a fly on the wall documentary, but you can't help to wonder if their lives are a product of the experiences presented to them, because of the Up documentaries. It is a phenomenal series, and its format has been copied in other countries and it is used as an education aid in VCE psychology classes, yet, after 42 years, they participants are still bewildered by our interest in their 'ordinary' lives. John offers us his insight about our fascination: " It's like watching Big brother except the viewer gets the added bonus of watching us all grow old and get fat." For all the differences in their back grounds, the participants are seem to have a similar trait- optimism and resilience, and it is satisfying to watch. Yes the once wide eyed 7 year old are now plumper, greyer, and more precocious then ever, yet there is a little bit of all of them in us, and that is why we will eagerly await 56 Up in 2013.
Biography / Documentary
Biography / Documentary
In 1964, to explore the adage "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man," World in Action filmed seven-year-olds. Every seven years, Michael Apted visits them. At 49, ...
December 26, 2019