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UP, UP AND AWAY

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 3, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: British filmmaker Michael Apted’s remarkable ‘Up’ documentary franchise is back after its latest seven-year absence, his subjects having now reached the age of 63 (see ‘New Movies This Week’ below). If you don’t know about these fascinating films, my review below of ’28 Up,’ which was published in the Deseret News on May 20, 1986, explains what they’re all about. I also reviewed its seven-years-later follow-up, ’35 Up,’ which was published on Aug. 28, 1992, which is also reprinted below.

28 UP

Michael Apted is a British movie director best known in this country for last year’s documentary about Sting’s fusion of rock music and jazz “Into the Night,” and his Oscar-nominated “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the biography of country star Loretta Lynn (which won an Oscar for Sissy Spacek).

But he began his career doing TV documentaries in London where, in 1964, one of his early jobs was assistant director on “7 Up,” a program consisting of interviews with 14 7-year-olds from various levels of Britain’s class system — rich, poor and middle-class kids form farms, cities and suburbs, along with two orphans, one of them black.

“7 Up” became enormously popular on British television and the general public began to be curious about how these youngsters were faring with life, so Apted interviewed them three more times, with seven-year spans, at ages 14, 21 and 28.

The result is “28 Up,” one of the most fascinating sociological studies you are likely to see in a documentary format as it chronicles the changes in these people from age 7 to 28.

The deck would seem to be stacked against Britain’s class structure, which gets a unique examination here. Most of the subjects are working-class people, but three upper-class lads, interviewed as one, come off in their younger years as a bit too aware of their social status. As a result, for the last session at age 28, two of these decided not to be interviewed. (Ironically, one is now a documentary filmmaker for British television.)

As for the others, despite their being unable to climb out of their working-class status, as some had hoped, most of those in Apted’s interview pool have managed to work their lives to better advantage than their parents had, though we are told but not shown that this is the case.

Several of the stories are absolutely fascinating, such as one woman who, at age 21, was extremely cynical and anti-marriage, chain-smoking and very nervous. Yet at 28 this same woman is now married and very content with her life — very much a changed person.

 

Another, who dreamed of being a jockey when he was young, is now a cabbie who aspires to be an actor, and he also seems rather content. Still another, the black orphan, is married with children and is working at a steady job, and is also quite content.

Yet another, a young man who showed great intelligence and promise as a youth, has become an aimless drifter who lives off the state and has no particular ambition. On the other hand, another became a nuclear physicist and left Britain for the United States, while yet another has abandoned his upper-class ideals to become a teacher of impoverished children on London’s east side.

These stories, and many more, showing their attitudes at various ages and their open discussion with the probing camera, are absolutely fascinating to watch.

My only real complaint about this movie is that it is a bit too long at 2 hours, 13 minutes. But the film raises such a vast number of though-provoking social points it stays alive most of the way.

Though it perhaps sounds conceited, I kept thinking about myself through this movie. How would I have looked being interviewed at those ages, and how would I look now? But that’s the kind of movie “28 Up” is. You immediately empathize with these people and put yourself in their places.

And in answer to the most obvious question, yes Apted hopes to interview this group again in seven years for “35 Up.”

“28 Up” is unrated but would probably carry a PG for a couple of profanities.

35 UP

As cinematic social documentation, Michael Apted's "Up" series is unparalleled. It began with a British television special, "7 Up," which observed a group of 14 disparate English 7-year-olds at play and in interviews, with the promise to follow them through the year 2000 (or perhaps beyond).

Apted has kept his promise so far, checking in on these people every seven years, with "14 Up," "21 Up," "28 Up" and now "35 Up."

 

While a few of the subjects (or their spouses) have declined to be interviewed for certain segments, most have allowed Apted to invade their privacy for follow-up shows. The result is a fascinating look at the dreams of children, the aspirations of youths and the goals they may or may not have achieved as adults.

In "35 Up," which incorporates footage from all the previous documentaries, we begin with insecure Paul, who has a modest success story with his wife and children in Australia, where they have learned to be content with what life has dealt them.

Apted concludes with the saddest and most charismatic character, Neil, a drifter who was homeless in "28 Up" and has now settled in Scotland's Shetland Islands, though he is still rather restless. As a child, Neil was bright and eager, seemingly as well adjusted as anyone in the group.

Aside from Neil, the most startling change in personality has come to Suzy, a chain-smoking rebel at 21 who vowed to never marry or have children. Now, at 35, she is happily married, and has three youngsters with a cheerful appearance and demeanor that belies her early years.

Among the others are Tony, a cabbie whose young dream was to be a jockey; Bruce, who aspired to be a missionary to Africa and is now a teacher in Bangladesh; John, a barrister who declined to be interviewed in "28 Up" but lets us catch up with his life in this edition; Jackie and Sue, who are both working-class divorced single parents; Lynn, a wife and mother diagnosed with a serious illness that is currently in remission; Nick, a college science professor living with his family in Wisconsin; etc.

As you might expect, these people's lives are not all that different from our own — as they grow older, each becomes more mature in his or her thinking; they watch their parents grow older and, in some cases, pass away; they have children and become more mellow; some divorce and some find their relationships strengthened through adversity. … In other words, "35 Up" is about life, real life from childhood through adulthood.

Apted also looks at the impact of this ongoing documentary on their lives. John says at one point that he "bitterly regrets" being a part of the series, comparing it to "a little pill of poison" that comes into his life every seven years.

"35 Up," which is not rated but does have a couple of profanities on the soundtrack, is simple, understated and utterly fascinating from start to finish. For anyone interested in the human condition — and aren't we all — this is must-see viewing.