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56 Up

The Gang Grows Up.

“In 1964 Grenada Television brought together a group of seven-year-olds from all over the country and from all walks of life. They talked about their dreams, their ambitions, and their fears for the future. For nearly half a century in a unique, ground-breaking series of films we have followed their lives every seven years. They are now 56.” – Michael Apted’s opening narration.

Fourteen seven-year-olds in 1964 eventually dwindled down to about ten or so, then every few years there’d be a few more who would come back, usually to promote whatever their pet cause was at the time of the interviews, and others who would drop out (some only to come back in later films). For a long time it worked, as they got older and went through their awkward teenage years, in their early twenties when some of them became asshole know-it-alls and others got married and had kids, etc. Every seven years it was always interesting to see where these lives were going. “I’m never having kids!” Jackie says, then cut to her changing her baby’s diaper seven years later. Or Neil, who says “I’d love to go into politics”, then in the next film he’s homeless and roaming the hills of Scotland, seeming to be on the verge of a breakdown. Lynn’s entire arc about opening the book mobile and becoming a librarian is a drama that played out over films and was always interesting to see.

So, something’s always happening. Even the ones who seem to be leading ‘normal’ lives are engaging, just to see how they grow and change with their families (and the times). Tony at seven said he wanted to be a jockey, then he became one, gave it up, became a taxi driver, got married, had an affair, she threw him out, then they got back together, then his mother died… it really is like watching someone’s life as it’s happening. And it’s always been kind of thrilling.

When Neil was at his lowest point in his forties, fellow interview subject Bruce found him and took him in to help him get back on his feet. Neil even attended Bruce’s wedding, which, for this series, constituted a pretty incredible twist, and was amazing to see. 

Ebert said these films counted together as a whole as being in the “top ten films ever made” and called the series a “noble” use of cinema. He’s right, but I wonder what he would have said about this new one.

56 Up is easily the weakest entry in the series. The problem is these nerds haven’t done a whole lot that’s very interesting in the past seven years except decide that they hate being in these movies and swearing on camera that this is the last time they’re going to put up with it (just like every other time).

Neil and Tony are the only interesting “characters” anymore, since at least they’re funny. I don’t know if it’s the uncertainty principle at work here or what, but most of these people just go on and on about how they’re in these movies, while complaining that the movies don’t fully represent who they really are. One dude even showed up for the first time since the 80s just to promote his boring country band. C’mon, guys. Also, am I crazy or is Michael Apted being a huge dick to everybody? He basically chastises Neil for having schizophrenia and makes sure he keeps reminding the women that they were born poor and still haven’t made much of themselves.

Not too many highlights here, except the “revelation” that Suzy and Nick are now friends (they’re interviewed together). Nothing here that tops the Bruce/Neil reveal in 42 Up.

My biggest question about this series still remains: what’s up with Sue’s son’s throat wound? 

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