Sunday, April 3, 2011
The Up Documentaries
Anyway, the series, simply called the "Up" series, is directed by Michael Apted, and the first one was made in 1964. The first film is a bunch of interviews with some seven-year-old kids in Britain, and the filmmakers check back with this same group of kids every seven years to see how they are doing. The last one I watched as 49 Up, made in 2006. They still plan to do these films, the next one, 56 Up, is slated for next year. It was really interesting to watch all of these in one go - and sort of strange, in a way, to see people grow from 7 to 49 in the span of 6 days. Ebert writes in his review, " I feel as if I know these subjects, and indeed I do know them better than many of the people I work with every day, because I know what they dreamed of at 7, their hopes at 14, the problems they faced in their early 20s, and their marriages, their jobs, their children, even their adulteries" (The Great Movies, 475), and I felt that way today, at the end of all the films!
I will admit I found them a bit boring at times, but once I got to know the people in them, I started to look forward to what was going on in their lives. It always seemed like at least one or two people had major changes in their lives, and I would get excited to see what was next for them. I had a bit of a laugh when one of the girls, Suzy, was explaining when she was 21 that she was very cynical and never wanted to get married, and in the next film, it was revealed that she got married at 22. I think we've all had these moments in our lives, and it was easy to feel like the people we were watching were our friends, or people we knew, not just people in a film. There are other times where I feel so happy to see the changes in people's lives, because it was sad to watch them during harder times. One of the men, Tony, seemed to have a struggling marriage and he even had an affair. Later, we could see his marriage had improved, and they both seemed much happier together and were building a vacation home in Spain.
There were a lot of strange moments in the movies that endeared them greatly to me as well. One scene with Suzy was filmed outside, and as she looks down shyly from the camera, a crazed dog charges out of nowhere and begins to murder a rabbit behind her. She never flinches. Later, the dog can be seen licking the dead rabbit next to her. The scene that this happens in is re-used in every subsequent film, during the part where they go back to re-familiarize viewers with the previous films. Despite my love of animals, the weird constant use of this scene started to become funny, and I would laugh whenever I saw it. Then, the question of the ominous music at the end. The films end with a scene from the first movie of all the kids together at a playground, and then horrible, booming, low music plays, the kind you would pay if Darth Vader suddenly appeared on the playground. I kept thinking it was sort of an odd 60's weirdness that would go away after the first film or two, but it was even the last one! I don't know, I loved these weird little things. It felt like more...comfortable, that there were stupid or awkward parts. Like, it was sort of homey and real, I guess, like home movies, not just a polished perfect film where they might have edited out the murdering bastard dog to not upset anyone.
I was a little bit surprised at how vocal many of the participants were about how much they hated being part of the films. They seemed, I guess understandably, embarrassed or annoyed to have their past dug up every seven years. To have their unflattering thoughts committed to film. To have the public and critics analyze their behavior. I guess I grew up when reality TV was becoming really popular and prominent, and I feel so used to people doing humiliating things that are permanently committed to film. Moments ago I just watched Meat Loaf have a complete breakdown on Celebrity Apprentice because he couldn't find some paints he bought. After screaming obscenities at Gary Busey for stealing his sponges, he screamed that he could put him in the hospital in four minutes. Then his paints were found, stashed in a corner. This will never leave him. That video will be immortalized on the web. It seems commonplace now, that idea.
I mean, I understand the participants feelings. They didn't choose to be in the films at 7, and 99% of people don't want their lives televised - they just want to consume the televised lives of others. I guess I am so used to it that it seems like no big deal. It's not just reality TV, since so many people upload funny videos of their kids on YouTube that end up being emailed around forever. I think that David After Dentist will grow up to be a fine young man, and he'll get over the evidence that he was a doofy kid high on anesthesia that millions of people saw. I don't know, I'm just on a tangent. I personally didn't see anything that I felt was like, huge emotional baggage being dug up every seven years, or overly embarrassing stuff. But I'm also not the participants, so I can't say for sure how things really were - I'm just seeing the edited version. I don't know if I'm just jaded from so much YouTube and TV, or if I'm just a big, weird, past-embracing freak. Who knows!
It's hard to watch these films and not reflect back on your own life. Some of the people did so much of what their goals were when they were 7. At 7, Tony had wanted to be jocky, or drive a taxi - and he did both of those things over the course of the films. Ebert mentioned this in his essay, writing, "Curious how, at 7 or 8, I wanted to be a newspaperman, and how today I am one. Anyone watching these films goes through a similar process of self-examination. Why am I me and why not you? Why am I here and why not there?" (The Great Movies, 476). I don't really have a career yet, but thinking of what I wanted to be as a kid is startlingly depressing. I wanted to be a veterinarian, a dream which was soon dashed when I learned that I was allergic to all shedding animals. I don't know what my goal was at 7 for sure. Maybe to teach? Certainly not what I went to college for, or have job experience in. In the words of Skwisgaar Skwigelf from Metalocalypse, "I guess I re-evaluates my life, then."
The series is obviously long, but it is a really fascinating look at life, in general. Not just because we get to leer at other people (normal people, at that!), but because it is so wonderful to experience the introspection that watching something like this brings us. It's not often we think about how we were when we were kids, what our goals were when we were young, and how we have changed. It's also a fascinating use of film, this series. It started before there was really an idea about reality TV or watching anything about other people's lives, which makes it interesting in it's originality. It's such a big, long, project, and I love it for that. Many of these are streaming on Netflix, and they do backtrack a tiny bit, so even if you can't watch all of them, it might be worth checking out the ones that are streaming. Let me know if you do!
Have any of you seen these documentaries? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Up Documentaries