The ethnographic film series which began with “7 Up” in 1963 is now in its seventh installment, “49 Up.” 42 years ago, when Michael Apted was 23 and a group of fresh-faced London school kids were just seven, they began a relationship that no one imagined would last so long. Many of its youthful participants have come to regard the filming every seven years as an intrusive burden, but most agree to continue with the “Up” project. It is unique, it is revealing and its study of the life changes that occur from youth through middle age and beyond is always fascinating.
The kids have turned out pretty much as their 1963 incarnations had expected them to evolve. An exception is Neil, who has battled homelessness, depression and isolation all his life. A cheerful kid who once dreamed of becoming an astronaut, he seems terribly sad at 14, was a lost soul by 21, slid further into malaise by 28, until at 35, he looked much, much worse than he would at 49. Politics and friendship seemed to help him at 42, but then he chose a far more quiet life away from London, which seems to suit his restless spirit.
2 of the 3 upper class twits have lived their lives in a straight line, (one of the three had no further involvement with the series after 21.) The guy who usually sat in the middle has brisked up his life with a second wife, who appears to adore him. (Wife #1 was upset that she projected the image of a pill during interviews and the couple never shared the easy give and take that is revealed in this clear-eyed second marriage.)
Some of the interviewees have developed tight friendships, others have drifted apart. Interests have shifted. The focus is on the immediate world of the subjects, so larger issues like global conflict are not addressed at all. One woman grumbles about the sort of questions she is asked, adding that only the filmmakers have any control about the shaping and editing of each segment. Perfectly true. Yet there is something very precious about the cumulative wisdom contained in all the “Up” films. The validity of each stage of life is in stunning contrast to fictional images on television which contrast young and old images, with a rock bottom minimum of depth or insight. I didn’t see any obvious signs of cosmetic alternation onscreen, and even among the rich, crooked teeth are just as crooked at 49 as they are at seven. On balance, their life choices have fulfilled them and made them happy.
“7-49 Up” is a gift to Michael Apted and to audiences around the world. One interviewee says “I enjoy all the stories in the films except my own.” But, like the photographs in a family album, it’s good that we can hear all the stories, imperfect and real.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/4/06
UK - 2005