Release Year: 2012
Studio: First Run Features
Format: Colour/B&W; NTSC
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 138 Minutes Plus Bonus
DVD Release Date: July 2, 2013
Director: Michael Apted
DVD Features: SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating: 10/10
First Run Features:
“Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”
Starting in 1964 with Seven Up, The UP Series has explored this Jesuit maxim. The original concept was to interview 14 children from diverse backgrounds from all over England, asking them about their lives and their dreams for the future.
Every seven years, renowned director Michael Apted, a researcher for Seven Up, has been back to talk to them, examining the progression of their lives. From cab driver Tony to schoolmates Jackie, Lynn and Susan and the enigmatic Neil, we see, as they turn 56, more life-changing decisions and surprising developments.
A towering achievement in the annals of cinema, The UP Series is, according to critic Roger Ebert, “an inspired, almost noble use of the film medium. Apted penetrates to the central mystery of life.”
Roger Ebert interviews Michael Apted
Filmmaker Biography & Statement
Jon Ted Wynne Review:
If there is a comparable cinematic document in existence that chronicles the lives of individuals the way The UP Series does, I’m hard-pressed to think of it. No doubt there are imitators. A South African version is currently sitting at 21 UP, apparently. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
While The UP Series is unique, even more astounding is the fact that each film is a stand alone work of art in its own right. For our purposes, we will focus on 56 UP, the latest installment in the series.
Roger Ebert, whose half hour, in-depth and intelligent interview with director Michael Apted is included in this DVD release, comes very close to articulating why this film (and the series) is so important. He states the series is “an inspired, almost noble use of the film medium.” If we define the word “noble” as something which is “admirable in dignity of conception, manner of expression, execution or composition,” then Ebert has hit the nail on the head.
Virtually every invention in the history of the world has come to be as something to make life better, to make existence more meaningful, more pleasurable, more practical. Film is no exception. Like any great art form, film exists, ideally, to ennoble as well as to educate or entertain. Great art distinguishes mankind from the creatures around him. A reminder of the sacred act of creation (and, by extension, many would argue, cause for rumination on God), art is a gift mankind too often cheapens and undervalues, especially in the name of commerce and quick thrills. Witness any of the latest summer blockbusters in the local Cineplex.
56 UP pulls us back into an awareness of art as the great provoker of thought, reflection, dialogue and understanding. The simplicity of the concept is astounding. Who would’ve had the thought to undertake such an experiment (for that is surely what it was, originally)? Who could’ve envisaged how a one-off film could inspire a series, a representational chronicle of lives, free from political correctness—arguably one of the key elements of its success?
Many artists spend their whole lives in the pursuit of simplicity and director Apted, whether knowingly or not, has defined the template for documentary filmmaking. Just tell the story in the words of the participants. Don’t comment. Show, don’t tell.
Apted’s great body of work extends far beyond the documentary genre. My favourite film of his is Amazing Grace, which portrays the life of William Wilberforce, who was predominantly responsible for the abolishment of slavery in the United Kingdom.
There is a kind of amazing grace that permeates 56 UP. It is the grace which is defined as beauty of form, manner, motion, or action. The film is all of those things in its seamless representation of life. It is also a profound testimony to another definition of grace, namely, forgiveness. For to view the subjects under Apted’s filmic microscope is to witness humanity in breathtaking variation—and simplicity—full of hopes and dreams, success and failure, love and indifference, struggle and enjoyment.
The genius of 56 UP is life itself. Documentary filmmaking doesn’t get better than this.[Top]