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With: Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Michael Apted
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 144
Date: 05/14/2012
IMDB

56 Up (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Through a Child's Eyes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Apted's extraordinary, profound documentary series returns, another seven-year gap having passed. In case you haven't heard, this series began with a half-hour, black-and-white TV special, Seven Up! (1964), interviewing a handful of seven year-olds about life and the things they hope for. An assistant on that project, Apted, revisited the children in 7 Plus Seven (1970), and again in 21 (1977). 28 Up (1984) received a theatrical release in the United States, and critics and viewers began to see how incredible it was. Apted has now kept it up for a half-century.

This is my third time with the series as a critic, having reviewed 42 Up in 2000 and 49 Up in 2006, though I have been aware of it since 28 Up. What astounds me each time I see one of these films is how many ideas and emotions it manages to conjure up, each entry subtly different from the one that came before it.

Apted routinely concentrates on romantic relationships, and -- subsequently -- divorce and/or children, as well as careers. Though many of the participants have been divorced at some point, at 56 many seem to have settled in with their most current partners. Many have kept their same jobs, though many of these are currently in jeopardy due to the shaky world economy. It raises the question of how a 56 year-old is supposed to find a new job.

But in starting with these basic questions, Apted opens the door for other concerns. The series itself comes up for discussion many times. One participant, Tony, while working as a cab driver, was thrilled to pick up astronaut Buzz Aldrin as a fare, but was even more surprised to find that he was more famous than Aldrin. Other participants offer a kind of film criticism on the series. Most hate it, and others debate what the original point was: was it a statement on class, or not? Others complain that they're never represented in a complete and satisfying way; they're only captured at certain moments, good or bad.

The biggest surprise in this film is that one participant, Peter, who had dropped out after 28 Up returns. In 28 Up, he was a teacher and received some negative notices for his cynical viewpoints. Now he's back and working as a musician; he says openly that he hopes to use the film to promote his music. Other participants reconnected after the last film and have remained friends.

Each new entry in the series brings up another point: the sheer volume of footage grows ever larger, and presumably, more difficult to edit. This is the longest one so far, but only about 5 minutes longer than the last two entries. Perhaps the largest amount of footage is the new stuff, though Apted clearly has the power to manipulate a participant's story, depending on his use of the older footage crossed with the new footage. Happily, his approach is sympathetic and respectful; he tries to see his participants as humans rather than subjects.

Similarly, I have tried to decide how much or whether to repeat the things I said about the series in my earlier reviews. Indeed, the new film has hit me in many of the same ways that the previous two entries did, but I have decided to focus instead on new thoughts and ideas that came up. Readers can certainly go back and read what I wrote seven and fourteen years ago to get a more complete picture.

But is it a complete picture? It's possible to know someone for a lifetime and still not completely know them. But on the other hand, it's also possible to get a brief impression of someone and know them well. I think the Up series brilliantly manages to get between these two extremes. Whether you've seen some or all of the films thus far, or if this will be your first time, don't miss it.

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