In 1964, when Andrew, Lynn, John, Sue, Jackie, and others were 7-years-old, film director Michael Apted, then 21, created a documentary about them called “7 Up.” These children were specifically selected from both working class neighborhoods (East End) and prosperous areas of London. Apted intended this to be a one-time production. He was inspired by the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” He was exploring class as it related to education and goals sought by these children.
Apted revisited these children 7 years later after deciding to do a follow-up documentary. From that point, every seven years, he created another documentary about them, most of whom cooperated, though at times reluctantly or with hostility. Thus, “56 Up” (UK, 2012) is his eighth film in this series.
Apted’s view, that class determines one’s social standing as adults, to an extent appears to have been realized, as least with regard to the children of privilege. One, Andrew, is a solicitor. John, a classmate of Andrew at a private preparatory school, became a barrister.
On the other hand, Lynn, from a working class background who expected to be a sales clerk, works as a children’s librarian. Sue, without higher education, now is a university administrator. Jackie, a classmate of Lynn and Sue, married at 19, divorced, and after several jobs faced unemployment and single motherhood of 3 children. Neil, who aspired to be an astronaut, ended up with psychological problems. He was homeless in “28 Up,” but after struggles, he now has a better life, becoming a local councillor for his district in 2010. Tony wanted to be a jockey at age 7. He left school at age 15, had a brief jockey career, and made sure his daughters could ride horses at a young age, something he never experienced.
What has been learned from what is most likely one of the first “reality shows?” There have been marriages and divorces, failures and successes, goals attained and denied. The shyness and naivety of childhood, awkwardness of adolescence, dreams realized and faded, indeed, many aspects of life are seen.
One wonders how being in a continuing film affected these subjects? Were actions taken, or not taken, based on the knowledge that their lives would be scrutinized by viewers? As the series progressed, did they create images of themselves that might not have been accurate in order to present their best, or maybe worst aspects? There is no doubt that the presence of a camera, which creates either moving or still images, places a certain self-consciousness on the subject. As one watches this most recent film of the series, then, there is much to ponder.
In a recent interview, Apted talked about “56 Up.” He said: “I was surprised by the film, [but] I try not to second-guess it. I thought it would be more depressing. I thought people would be more worried about getting to retirement age, worried about money, worried about health, and all this. But they weren't. It seemed to me that they've found some peace and solid ground in their relationships with their immediate and extended families.” Interview by Gillian Mohney in Interview Magazine.
Released in the UK in May 2012, “56 Up” is now screening in various theaters in the U.S. In Portland it can be seen at the Hollywood Theatre and the Living Room Theaters. Check their websites for ticket prices and times.