Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Cinema Bestius: The Up Series
#34 – The Up Series
The Up series of documentaries started with a single film, Seven Up!, which was directed by Paul Almond and broadcast on BBC television in 1964.
Richard Linklater’s astounding Boyhood had been filmed over the course of 49 years instead of just twelve!
The Plot in Brief: We follow the lives of fourteen English schoolchildren from childhood to adolescence to adulthood: Andrew, Charles, John, Suzy, Jackie, Lyn, Sue, Tony, Paul, Symon, Nick, Peter, Neil, and Bruce. Charles drops out of the series after 21 Up; he actually became a documentary filmmaker for the BBC, proving life really can imitate art. Some participants—including John, Symon, and Peter—drop out for a few installments, but eventually return. Sadly, Lyn passed away shortly after 56 Up was released. Otherwise, the series has been remarkable for its ability to revisit the same group of people over such a long period of time.
For a brief, glorious time, all of the films were available on Netflix Instant Streaming. That made it easier to binge watch the entire series, which I still remember doing with my wife one happy week a few years back. Unfortunately, the series is no longer available on Netflix.
In 56 Up, the latest installment of the series, Nick summarizes Apted’s ultimate achievement. The person he sees onscreen every seven years isn’t exactly him, he says. “It’s a picture of everyman. It’s how a person, any person… how they change.” Change is at the heart of every installment of the Up series: the physical changes in the children, as they grow older before our eyes, certainly; but more importantly, the changes that define their lives, that define any human life. If anything is certain in life, it’s… Well, you know.
The Up Series’s Three Miracles: The tenacity and patience of both the filmmakers and their subjects in sticking with this ambitious project for almost fifty years; the skill and empathy of Michael Apted in putting it all together; and the films themselves, which continually remind us that empathy is not weakness.
“In nomine Patrice, et Apted, y spiritu primum vitae—Amen.”