56 Up

Nearly 50 years ago, a young Michael Apted filmed interviews with a group of seven-year-olds, asking about their dreams and aspirations, how they felt about the opposite sex and so on. Seven years later, he revisited them, filming and interviewing them again.

The resultant documentary was called Seven Plus Seven. But the cool thing is that he followed up at 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and, now, 56 years. 56 Up is the first of the highly praised series I’ve seen.

The good news is that you don’t need to have seen any of the others in the series to get this. It doesn’t hurt to be English, I think—a lot of stuff went over our heads. Like, I gather the London’s East End is not a swank neighborhood.

The bad news is, I think that the praise heaped on this series comes from the filmmaker’s agenda to show how the class limitations you were born into basically govern the rest of your life. It’s all about class warfare, really.

Meh. England’s not America, I tell myself. It’s an issue there, I guess. There’s plenty of trashing of Thatcher from the folks. I guess she’s still responsible for all their problems, despite being out of office for 20 years.

I asked the Boy what he learned from the movie, and he said “You can’t trust government.” One of the women was on disability, and her heartbreaking story was that she worked—and she worked even when it hardly profited her to do so, with the welfare payouts being roughly equivalent to what she could get without doing anything. But her sense of ethics compelled her to work because she was able-bodied.

Until she wasn’t. So she had to take the welfare finally, at least with the comfort that she had earned it.

Until the government told her, no, she could work, and therefore couldn’t receive anything.

This was kind of hilarious (in a horrible way), particularly after reading about this able-bodied couple that seems to have no trouble collecting checks.

Smart boy.

The lesson I learned was this: getting old sucks. English people aren’t pretty to begin with, and they ain’t getting any prettier. Age is a harsh mistress. It makes you wrinkly and fat and crushes all your dreams.

I didn’t really need that lesson.

I’m snarking here, obviously, but it’s pretty good. They’re reasonably interesting people, and there’s a discussion at one point about how the snapshot you get gives you a very incomplete picture of who they are. (How else could it be, right? But these docs have made them somewhat famous back in old Albion, so it’s gotta be annoying to have people think they know you from 20 minutes every seven years.)

I also liked that the last person looked at in the show was Tony. A scrappy East Ender who drives a cab and has done quite well for himself (hurt though he’s been by the economic downturn). I think I liked him because he was the most “American”: He seems to live his life according to his passions, not worrying too much about whether it’s his “station” to do so.

Anyway, the kids liked it, though they weren’t agog.

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