About a year ago, I began watching Michael Apted’s Up documentary series. I’d known about them for years, of course, but I’d resisted digging into them, for a variety of trivial reasons. Tonight I watched 49 Up (out of sequence, actually, for I’ve already seen most of 56 Up).
The films are becoming less surprising as the characters settle into late middle age. At this point, they’re accustomed to their minor celebrity status and, in the most recent installments, most of them have clearly thought about how they want to present themselves to the public. The “upper class” subjects simply tell Apted on camera that they resent the intrusions, and they assure him (and us) that they are participating reluctantly and guardedly. Meanwhile, the working class characters tend to put some effort into appearances: making sure they’ve got a new home to show off, or a new hobby, or a nice vacation to be photographed enjoying. Even the saga of poor, tormented Neil seems to be settling into a condition of equilibrium.
Nonetheless, the films continue to pack a punch for me. Time wreaks its havoc on the faces and bodies of the rich as well as it does on the poor. All those bubbling 7-year-olds, united in their innocent exuberance, and divided by class and chance for their subsequent productive lives, are becoming united again in their slackening, creaking, and slowing bodies.
I don’t know how long this series will continue, but I hope there’s at least one more. (Apted, who is only 15 years older than his subjects, has indicated a willingness to go until 84 Up, when he will be 99.) It’s a remarkable project, rivaled only by Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and his Sunrise/Sunset films with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Coincidentally, after finishing 49 Up, I opened the Times and saw this: