Sunday, December 1, 2019

63 UP, Michael Apted's continuing extension of the landmark British 7 UP series, opens

Film buffs, particularly those who love documentaries, can hardly be unaware of the great British series that began on television back in 1963, with an episode of World in Action devoted to profiling a highly diverse -- in terms of class (and therefore economic station) and in one case race -- group of seven-year-old children, which proved popular enough that its director, a 22-year-old fellow named Michael Apted, did a revisit to the kids seven years later, and consequently a renewed visit at each seven-year period until now, as these "children" reach the age of 63.

With each visit the series has grown richer, stranger, often sadder, and definitely more complex as we watch these lives grow, blossom (in ways both typical and quite unexpected) and now begin to end.

Mr. Apted (shown at right) and TrustMovies both happen to have been born in the same year (1941), a fact that of course has us wondering if we'll be around for any further episodes -- he to film them, I to view them. God, I hope so, and I also hope he has selected someone to follow up for him, just in case.

Younger viewers who have arrived mid-series may be able to last until each of these people have bid the world adieu. Lucky are they! Meanwhile here we are at the participants' age of 63, eager to learn what has happened during the past seven years.

I suspect many viewers will be ever more grateful to Tony, above (and in the red-and-white striped shirt next to the 63UP logo, further up), that short, sweet, energetic little kid who wanted to become a jockey, gave it his best shot, and then went on to drive a cab. One of this series' linchpins is "Give me a child at seven years, and I will show you the man." While Apted continues to ask his subjects if they think this to be true (they seem to agree, to various extents), it appears absolutely truest with Tony, whose positive energy, despite his share of setbacks, continues to buoy the series beautifully. Everything we saw at age seven, we still see now -- in spades.

Other of the children have aged quite differently. Nick (at right), for instance, after a promising physics career here in the USA, has now grown quite ill.

At one point in his interview, discussing his relationship with his late father, he addresses the filmmaker personally. "You know me, Michael: I probably haven't dealt with it fully." Which makes us viewers suddenly realize that, yes: Apted really does know and understand these people -- probably better than some of their friends and/or relatives know them.

At another point in the film, Jackie (at left) gives the filmmaker "what for," telling him, "You didn't have any idea of the changing role of women in Britain!" He doesn't disagree. As this series has rolled on, the role of the filmmaker to and for his subjects has clearly become more and more personal. Which simply adds to the series' depth and pleasure.

Jackie has endured quite a journey -- marriage, divorce, kids, and now, with the death of a partner, single-grand-parenting -- as have most of the "Up" series' participants -- except, perhaps, for a couple of the upper-class males here: Andrew (shown below) and John, the latter of whom has long struck me as the most clueless of the participants (he still does not seem to understand the why and wherefore of inequality in Britain).

John had earlier pulled his participation, due to critical comments made about him, but has now come back, and I do not wish to push his pulling out again, so I apologize in advance. John, shown below, is, as are all the rest, hugely important to this series, but the lives of these two upper-class children, now aging men, seemed to have changed the least. They set their sights as kids, achieved much (if not all, particularly in John's case) of what they wanted and seemed to have worked, lived and married quite well, and to have grown and changed the least of all the participants -- except maybe Tony, who wouldn't waste much time complaining in any case.

Among the women, major surprises are in store from wealthy playgirl-then-happily-married-mother Suzy and especially from that lovely children's librarian, Lynn (shown at bottom), but all the participants here have their interesting life choices (or events that life forces) to share.

Lynn's story will certainly move you, but so, I should imagine, will all of them to varying degrees: Neil (below), still struggling but coping with depression and relationships; Symon, after helping produce a number of children via two wives, is now fostering even more of them; the ever sweet, charming and industrious Sue; Paul, still living and working in Australia; and Bruce, ever heavier but as happy at work as he is now as a family man, too.

I could go on -- and I would like to, about each and every child who has grown into an interesting man or woman -- but those who've already seen the series will want to find out for themselves. For those who have not, 63 Up is as good an entry point as any (except of course the first one) because each participant's story is given as much of the history as viewers will need to fill in enough blanks to appreciate these lives.

If you decide to view the entire series (available on home video), don't even think about binge-watching because there

is so much repetition over the episodes that you'll drive yourself crazy in the process. It is very much worth seeing the entire series, however; just allow ample time to elapse between viewings.

Released by BritBox and running 144 minutes, 63 Up opened this past week in New York City at Film Forum. Elsewhere? Not sure, but one would imagine this film will eventually find its way to home video, just as have the others in the series.

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