Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Michael Apted

still picture from 49 Up

Michael Apted's 49 Up (2005) continues the fascination of the previous films in this longitudinal documentary series. We've gotten to know same group of English men and women who've had their lives peered into, sniffed, and stirred since the age of seven. Skillful editing teases out many small suspenses and unexpected reveals, such whether a character will get (or stay) married, have children, or ever be happy. The interviews, while informal, are beautifully shot and lit. One wonders what is in store for the next film, because by now, at age 49, several of the participants have pushed back against the entire enterprise. Some of them argue with the filmmaker about how they've been represented (Jackie, top) or simply state they will "bow out" next time (Suzy, second still). Two of the participants who did bow out of the series were Peter, after 28 Up, and Charles, after 21 Up (third and fourth stills).

Update: Peter did return to the series for 56 Up.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Michael Apted

In his films 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, and 42 Up (1998) Michael Apted introduces his characters with narrated capsule biographies using memorable scenes from the past films. Within these brief bios, Apted often uses images to telegraph personal traits. For example, one short sequence from 35 Up (repeated in 42 Up) demonstrates Bruce's humility and genuine love of learning: the camera pans across a classroom of kids in Bangladesh, revealing Bruce as just another student in the class (top still). Apted's recaps of Suzy's privileged life include footage of a dog chasing after and chewing over a rabbit in a handsome garden (second still: from 7 Plus Seven). Using this same dog-and-bunny scene in every subsequent film allows the viewer to feel the irony of the filmmaker's compulsion to chase after and chew over all the individuals, Suzy among them, who participated in the original Seven Up documentary. Indeed, Apted persistently puts Tony and Symon (above, third and fourth stills) on the spot when he keeps carping on their feelings about money, goals, success and failure.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michael Apted

35 Up's portrayal of Neil (above, at 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35; he's one of the subjects in Michael Apted's series of films about a group of British kids) is dramatic, sad, and weirdly hopeful. Neil's decline into a tramp-like instability is accompanied by the tremendous cinematic contrast between his coherence in interviews and his nervous body language of shuffling and ceaseless rocking. Apted seems to suggest that we all know someone like Neil -- an eccentric, marginal, or homeless person -- but without the access to the seven-year-old that we get in The Up Series.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Michael Apted

28 Up (1985), directed by Michael Apted, continues his long-running documentation of a group of British children at age 7, 14, 21, and now 28. Most of the characters have found stability in their work and their love lives, and Apted conveys the pride and delight that the 28-year-olds have in their young children (above: Lynn, Symon, Tony). Apted seems most interested in his participants who have not gotten married, such as Bruce and Neil -- their situations are inherently more dramatic within an overall smoothly reassuring film.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Michael Apted

In 21 Up (1977), Michael Apted continued documenting a set of British children (from Seven Up and 7 Plus Seven). The most striking character is the one who has changed the most: the kid from the country, Nick. The top three stills hint at how the films portray him as a would-be farmer at 7, an inarticulate mess at 14, and a suave success with a sense of humor at 21. Other characters who come out of their shells in surprising ways are Bruce and Suzy (bottom two stills).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Michael Apted

Michael Apted directed 7 Plus Seven (1970) using color film; the earlier Seven Up was in black and white. An out-of-doors scene with Tony (top still) has beautiful muted colors, for example. Apted positions his sets of subjects (such as John, Andrew, and Charles together, second still, or Symon alone, bottom still) in the same order as in Seven Up, emphasizing how much (and how little) they've changed. It might not be fair to make the kids exemplars of social class, but film's editing convincingly suggests that children's class, income, and education lead to unequal ambitions and unequal futures.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paul Almond

Paul Almond directed the first of the Up Series with Seven Up (1964), which documents an assortment of British children, rich and poor, urban and rural. The film is completely centered around the seven-year-olds. It has delightfully few images or voices of adults (and absolutely no parents) -- one reason why it is still a great watch. Michael Apted participated in making Seven Up and has since directed the every-seven-years follow-up documentaries, at ages 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, and 49. Are the 14 children in the films in the vanguard of "social media" sharing: were they the first of us to lose a certain basic privacy, with childhood images and growing pains permanently part of the public record? These days, anyone can expose their upbringing and lives with photo albums and constant self-documentation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Robb Moss

Robb Moss's The Tourist (1991) is an autobiographical reflection on the difficulties of one couple trying to have a child, interwoven with footage from Moss's career as a documentary cameraman. The film's wealth of imagery, such as kids with scrap-made pretend movie cameras and microphones who "film" the film crew, makes a case that documentaries about the third world are often more touristy than revelatory. Moss's candid, witty, and moving narration ranges from observations on filmmaking ("the worse things get for the people you are filming, the better that is for the film.") to insights on infertility. Moss has never released a DVD of the film, and it can only be seen at rare public screenings or at an archive, viewable on this Steenbeck editing table (above).
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Documentary Starts Here by Nancy Kalow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.