Before there was Honey Boo Boo, before the Kardashians and Real Housewives and Bachelors, there was Seven Up!, Paul Almonds groundbreaking 1964 film in which 14 British 7-year-olds discussed their lives, hopes and dreams for the future.
By ANN HORNADAY
The Washington Post
In 1971, Almond and Michael Apted, whod been a researcher for the original show, had the brilliant idea to catch up with them to see how reality lined up, a ritual the filmmakers have continued every seven years since.
The original documentary made for British television was intended to illustrate how the countrys deeply ingrained class system inscribed itself on the aspirations and inner lives of its young people.
But the successive movies have been far less polemical. Instead, the core participants (only one has dropped out) have allowed viewers to drop in on their lives as they grapple with the cardinal concerns of their generation. Finding love, making money and having kids have now given way to sustaining marriages, welcoming grandchildren, losing parents and facing redundancy and retirement.
(One interesting artifact of the series original intent is how Thatcherism conditioned so many of the lives of the 56 Up participants, who were young adults when the countrys most draconian budget cuts took hold.)
Viewers expecting a depressing tableau are in for a surprise, though: 56 Up is modestly upbeat, its subjects candid about their regrets and their often hostile feelings about the Up series itself but also satisfied with their various lots in life, even if the difference between resignation and contentment isnt always clear.
Many of Almond and Apteds protagonists are now on strong second marriages, their adult children mostly successfully launched. (One exception is Bruce, the baby-faced late bloomer whose kids are still young; watching them snuggle into a tent during a camping trip is one of the films rare funny moments.)
Even the vaguely embittered Neil perhaps the series most troubled character, who spent his young adulthood homeless or squatting seems to have found his perch as a small-town politician and lay minister.
There are times when 56 Up feels like the cinematic version of a sprawling family reunion, with the attendant confusion and occasional torpor. (Newbies to the Up series neednt worry about getting lost: The filmmakers smoothly interweave material from past interviews to bring the audience up to speed.) With their paunches, disappearing hair and resigned temperaments, 56 Ups subjects often succumb to cliches about glasses being half full and life being too short.
But as anyone who has reached mid life knows that, at a certain point, those sentiments take on fresh, even urgent meaning. The anxieties about money, health, children, work and death that animate much of 56 Up are banal but profoundly universal, as are the palpable feelings of joy and pride at putting together meaningful and productive lives.
This is the stuff of reality television and Russian novels and, every seven years, at least, of a compelling and moving film.
(At the Screenland Crown Center.)