Monday, November 12, 2007

The Great Movies: The "Up" Movies

The "Up" Movies: 7 Up, Seven Plus 7, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, and 49 Up.

Michael Apted, mostly (1964-present)

The "Up" Movies are certainly great movies, as documentary movies, but they are really in a conceptual category all their own. They are different from anything else ever made. The first of them, "7 Up," was a television documentary in which a group seven year old children were asked questions about their lives and futures. Every seven years since, the same people have been revisited and asked some of the same questions, and some new ones as well.

Although this setup certainly appeals to my enthusiasm for large scale arbitrary projects, it accomplishes something more important as well. For anyone curious about what human life is like, these movies offer the best chance available to immerse yourself in real lives that you are not personally involved in. The effect, emotionally and intellectually, is simply rivetting. In focussing on the everyday, the films and their often reluctant subjects achieve something awesome and heroic.

Plot: Children grow to adulthood and middle-age. They change, but in some ways they stay the same. Their humanity is revealed.

Visuals: Documentary footage. Indifferent, but often surprisingly memorable.

Dialogue: Spontaneous. Often funny, revealing, profound. But not always.

Prognosis: The Up films are probably not for everyone, but there's a fairly good chance that you will think they are the most meaningful films you've ever seen. You really ought to at least give them a try.


Rebel said...

I LOVE the Up series. I have a bit of a problem with the guy asking the questions. He has an agenda, and that agenda seems to be 'make everyone feel bad about their lives'. Seriously, the guy who wanted to be a jockey, then he wanted to be an actor. Well he was a jockey for like a season, then he got a few bit parts and the director was like "how does it feel that none of the things you wanted to do worked out?" Dude.... he was harsh.

Michael5000 said...

Now, you see, I LOVE that he asks the hard questions. Because, for the example you give for instance, that's exactly the question I wanted to hear the "character" react to. Also, with that particular character, you could ask him pretty much anything and it would be fine, because of his personality.

I do think he (Michael Apton, the director from Seven plus 7 on) was a bit paternal with the working-class women in the earlier versions, but I think he has learned and improved over the years, too. In a way, he's the invisible character, and you can kind of sense his own growth over time as well.

Rhetorical Twist said...

I thought the UP series was very interesting. I do agree that the director had quite a bit of a paternal side, but what I really liked is how the focus of the whole project shifted over time.

I have my doubts about the whole thing, though. I wonder the impact that it's had on the lives of the people involved with a new celebrity status. Granted, they have a choice to participate, but in "49 Up" you could really see the toll it was taking on some of them (I am thinking of one woman in particular, although I can't remember her name. She had blond hair and said this would be the last one she would do.)

blythe said...

yes! they are next on my netflix list after i finish freaks and geeks this weekend, i mean tonight! let's all talk about it after i've seen them! dea1? so excited!

Rebel said...

"that's exactly the question I wanted to hear the "character" react to." But it puts him unnecessarily on the defensive.

He *did* get to be a jockey (for a brief time) and he *did* get to be in a movie. So he really did accomplish all of the things he said he would. Which is more than most of us can say about our childhood dreams & aspirations. I mean, how many of us really grew up to be astronauts?

Anonymous said...

That series is heartbreaking in parts but it is magnetic. I haven't thought of it in years.

I remember reading once that some of the lads didn't want to do it anymore as life had given them a tossing. Understandable.

Still, very poignant series.

Michael5000 said...

My honest feeling about the impact of the project on the participants' lives is: sometimes you have to take one for the team. Everyone has any number of crosses to bear, and one of theirs is that they were randomly recruited into something that is bigger than them. I wouldn't often say this about any piece of film, but I think the Up series is actually important. If humans are harmed in the making of the film, that is unfortunate but perhaps a sacrifice we can ask them to make.

There, I said it!