For about twenty years now, I’ve been following the wonderful Up documentary series by Michael Apted. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a series of films made every seven years beginning in 1964. The films are made up of edited interviews with a group of people. In 1964, these people were seven years old, and there has been a film made every seven years since, at age 14, 21, 28, etc. May 2012, marks the release of 56 Up; those kids are now 56.
When I first saw the series – probably at 35 Up – I was absolutely gobsmacked. This sort of thing is right up my alley. It’s the ultimate form of real-life time-travel. It captures moments, snapshots of life in a very poignant and raw way and I just find it fascinating. Of course, not everyone agrees with me, especially those participating in the films. I find it amazing just how bitter and angry some of them are about having been signed up to be in the films, and they feel so often that they’re misrepresented or that their privacy has been breached. Some don’t think the films are a good idea, not worth doing, and others feel that the films have been completely unsuccessful in their aim: to explore the idea put forth by the famous Jesuit motto (thanks Wikipedia!), “give me the child when he is seven and I will show you the man”. There is also a reference in the very first film 7 Up that the children in the film are the business executives of the year 2000, and these films are an attempt to get a snapshot of “Britain’s future”. I think they achieve this as far as possible given the restrictions of subjectivity and the limitations of the group. Obviously no two people are the same or representative of any one class or type of person, and what is spoken about is going to be swayed somewhat by the interviewer’s questions and the editing.
I try to think about how I would feel if I knew that every seven years I’d have to sit down and discuss my life for a few hours, perhaps a few hours over the course of weeks, allowing film crews into my living room or workplace or to accompany me on errands or holidays. I’m not sure if I’d consider it an invasion of privacy.
In fact, although it was on a much smaller scale, I already sort of did something like this:
No I’m not that blonde chick and that dude with her is not Mr Chewbacca. Obviously there are other people profiled, but we’re in there if you can be bothered watching: me, Mr C and the Dude. So much of what was filmed was not shown, but we did have to let a guy with a camera into our house, both houses actually. I was shit at being interviewed, to be perfectly honest. I garbled, I couldn’t look at the guy (kept looking at the camera awkwardly), and was just nervous. So I think the people on the Up series are pretty amazing, but I guess you get used to it after a while.
I have just watched the whole series again and have the most recent 56 Up left to watch. I am so excited to find out what has happened to each person, who has bowed out and who has chosen to tell it like it is. This series is something really special, the likes of which we may not see again, the ultimate in sociological commentary and investigation, and I for one am very grateful to Michael Apted and the participants for the great gift of insight.