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Movie review: Watching middle age happen in '56 Up'

Published March 15, 2013 8:19 am

Review • Subjects of documentary series still fascinate.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Director Michael Apted's "Up" series — represented by the latest installment, "56 Up" — is a one-of-a-kind example of what film can do, even if it's not what Apted intended to do at the start.

In 1964, Apted was a young assistant on a documentary for Britain's Granada TV called "7 Up." The idea was to interview 7-year-olds, rich and poor, and make some grand comment about class differences in Britain. That's where Apted was aiming when he interviewed the same children again at age 14 and at 21.

Over time — through Apted's interviews in "28 Up," "35 Up," "42 Up," "49 Up" and now "56 Up" — the differences in economic status have made themselves known. But the similarities in these Brits' lives, as they faced adulthood and all its challenges, have linked them to each other and to the audience. Now the movies are snapshots of life at a certain age, like class reunions in which we catch up with old friends.

Being 56, the 13 interview subjects have all largely settled into their lives. Some are in their third decade of marriage, while others are in or past their second marriage. Most have children; a few have grandchildren.

Something else the subjects have in common: a love-hate relationship with Apted and the process of having their lives dissected every seven years. One of the funniest segments reunites two subjects, Suzy and Neil, to commiserate about the strange quasi-celebrity that the "Up" films have given them. On the other hand, there's Peter, who had boycotted the films after "28 Up," but returned this time — in part to promote his folk band.

The harshest differences are economic. Those who were rich kids have, by and large, been successes in life — and include a barrister, a solicitor and a couple of professors. The kids who were poor are now, mostly, in the middle class — making a living, but affected by the Great Recession and the austerity measures by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Two of Apted's subjects continue to stand out. Neil, who was troubled and homeless in his 30s, is soldiering on as a Liberal Democrat on a small-town council. And Tony, who wanted to be a jockey and wound up a cabbie, is a successful developer who has weathered the economic downturn — which, Apted notes, Tony predicted in "42 Up." Tony's blunt assessment of immigration prompts Apted to ask if he is a racist — which gets the response you'd expect from anyone who was called that.

Apted, now 72, has said he'll keep calling on his subjects every seven years until he or they are dead. Whether the subjects show up or not, I for one will be in line when "63 Up" comes around.

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'56 Up'

Michael Apted's long-running series continues, showing us slices of life at middle age.

Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas

When • Opens Friday, March 15.

Rating • Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language and some sexual dialogue.

Running time • 144 minutes.