16 October 2006

Growing "Up".

Here's a bit of James Bowman's review of the latest in the long-running and fascinating "-Up" documentary series. The films follow a group of English children of differing socio-economic backgrounds from age 7 until, now, they are 49, looking in on them once evey 7 years. Notice where the subjects find happiness.

". . . For the 7-Up series looks with each installment more and more like one of the most remarkable cinematic projects there has ever been. This is not only because of the intrinsic interest of the life stories it tells. Even more interesting are the reflections in those stories of slow-moving changes in our world that we might not otherwise notice. One of these is in the premiss of the series itself. Pretty obviously it owed its existence to a typically 1960s and British obsession with social class. Now that titanic mid-century struggle looks ever more like a non-event, while its familiar social divisions have given way to a unitary and post-modern celebrity culture. As one of these 49 year-olds says, the series now looks like a reality show from long before anyone had dreamed up such a thing. . .

. . . Looking at the original film now, Bruce can hardly recognize himself at age seven. That child looks so lost to him, he says. Cue his seven-year-old self at boarding school saying to the camera: "My heart’s desire is to see my daddy" — who was 6000 miles away. It’s enough to break your heart all over again. Small wonder he is surprised to be so happy and content a father himself all these years later. His life is one of several which illustrates the general proposition that the focus of the -Up films has tended to shift away from work and money and social class and towards marriage and family. More and more, what unites these people across their class boundaries, making all other considerations seem minor — and what moves us again and again about 49-Up — is their still undiminished heart’s desire to be happy in love.

For a surprising number, the wish has come true. Next to Tony, perhaps, the most attractive of all is Suzy, the upper-class girl who is shown again — as she has been in each of the last four films — looking morose and chain-smoking at age 21 as she tells the camera that she is very, very cynical about marriage and children. And once again, too, we see her seven years later absolutely transformed into a lovely and radiant young woman. "What happened to you?" the Michael Apted of 21 years ago asks in astonishment. The answer then was Rupert, her husband, and it still is. Suzy and Rupert are as happily married as ever, and one suspects that it is partly on his account that she seems to grow prettier and younger-looking with each new installment. Yet she tells us that, with this film, "For the first time I actually feel happy in my own skin. . ."

Here's the whole thing. More reviews here.


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