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August 30, 2013

Movies You Missed & More: 56 Up

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 11.01.00 AMThis week in movies you missed: Catch up with a British TV documentary series that has spanned almost a half century — and think about your own mortality.

What You Missed

In 1964, Granada Television ran a documentary profiling 14 British kids from various regions and social classes. The announcer intoned, "Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old."

Well, it's 2013, and those "children" are nearing 60. Every seven years, the documentary crew (helmed since the second film by Michael Apted) has returned to check in on them, producing a one-of-a-kind record of how people evolve, or don't, as they pass through their lives.

For instance, the viewers have watched Neil Hughes transformed from a lively, imaginative kid to a college drop-out to a homeless man to a local politician. His schoolmate, Peter Davies (pictured), followed a more consistent path as a schoolteacher and lawyer — but he also has a late-in-life musical career.

Why You Missed It

56 Up, which played theatrically in the U.S., did spend one week at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier. It's now on Netflix Instant, DVD, etc.

Should You Keep Missing It?

I always have a hard time making myself sit down and watch the Up films, and I'm always glad I did, because no other doc offers such a telling longitudinal look at people's lives.

Without the use of footage from earlier installments, some of these interviews would be deadly dull. In particular, the upper-class children who became upper-class adults are ... well, just not that interesting. (I wish the director could shorten their segments.) It's the people who show some form of mobility — like Sue Davis, who never attended university but works as a university administrator — who hold our attention.

Davis is also one of the subjects who seems to have grown more instead of less dynamic with age. It's fascinating to see how people's energy levels change over time: The 7-year-olds, of course, were brimming with life and possibilities. Camera-shy and sullen, the 14-year-olds didn't seem like the same people. In adulthood, we see a ton of variation, with no consistent age at which people "settle down."

One unspoken aim of the Up project was to test the stability of the British class structure: If your parents are "shop stewards" or executives in 1964, will you be?

The results are mixed. Some of the participants have traced exactly the trajectories one might have predicted for them, while others have veered off. Nick Hitchon, for instance, raised on a farm, ended up a physics prof at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One can't help noticing that even participants on the lower end of the economic spectrum are living better, materially speaking, than their parents probably did in 1964 — Tony Walker the cabbie, for instance, now owns a holiday home in Spain. Everybody has computers and gadgets.

And all acknowledge, sometimes with resentment, that being on TV every seven years has changed their lives. The Up films are one of those experiments you can't run without affecting the results.

Verdict: Again, always worth watching. Worth catching up on previous installments, too.

New in Theaters This Week

Morgan Spurlock directed a 3-D documentary about One Direction. Nice paycheck move. Also, political thriller Closed Circuit and action flick Getaway.

New on Video This Week

The Great Gatsby, Pain & Gain, Kon-Tiki.

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