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'56 Up' is a telling human saga

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But this is unavoidable in a project of such scope, and it also has its advantages. The effect of seeing these 7-year-olds expanding over time into 56-year-olds is almost symphonic at times, as Apted shuttles us between footage shot over those many years.

From a class-conscious standpoint, with few exceptions, that Jesuit maxim has proved true – the working-class kids and the upper-class kids have almost predestined life trajectories. But Apted has moved beyond such simplifications. The “Up” series has its greatest value, I think, as a complex human document, not a reductively political one.

Most touching is the com-parison between the scruffy black-and-white interviews from 1964 and those of the present day. In some cases, the differences are stark. The almost supernally cheerful boy Neil has, over time, been hobbled by mental illness and indigence; and yet he hangs on, making useful work for himself in local council politics and church activities.

Like more than a few of the participants, he’s wary of Apted’s cinematic intrusions. Apted acts as the off-camera interviewer, and his dry, almost blasé, but always indulgent questioning sometimes provokes an aggravated response.

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