’56 Up’ – Michael Apted revisits his cinematic beginnings with the same group of people every seven years

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

You may know Michael Apted as the prize-winning director of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The World is Not Enough,”  “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and dozens of other movies.

However, the work that has secured him a unique place in cinematic history began over 50 years ago when he was working for Granada Television.

Taking his cue from the Jesuit maxim, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” Apted chose 14 British children from different socio-economic backgrounds and produced a documentary called “7 Up.”

Ever since, Apted has revisited as many of the original 14 who are still willing to participate. The result is an extraordinary, one-of-kind series that has lasted  — well, do the math yourself — almost half a century.

I first encountered Apted and his “experiment” at the New York Film Festival. The newest chapter was “28 Up,” but the NYFF also showed the three preceding films.

I had never seen anything like it.  Nor have I since. Some of the participants have gone down predictable paths. Some have not. Some have dropped out, then returned. One has become a documentary filmmaker himself.

You don’t need to have seen any of the previous films to experience this amazing cinematic sociological experiment. Plus, Apted takes care of you, sprinkling in relevant bits from the previous “Ups” to get you up to speed, so to speak.

“56 Up” starts today (February 8) at the Landmark in Midtown.  Lefont Theatres in Sandy Springs takes over the following week.

I haven’t filled you in on any of the participants specifically because it is easy enough to discover them on your own.  It’s like a class reunion — but with someone else’s personal baggage on view.

Also, this is a preview, not a review.  The screener arrived too late for deadline, and it’s almost two and a half hours long. So, in order to capture some of the thrill I felt when I first encountered these films, I thought I’d share a bit of what I wrote all those years ago when I saw “28 Up.” I imagine many of the particulars are different but the song, you might say, remains the same:

“Part social study, part soap opera, the series is as irresistible as it is original. By combining footage from the earlier documentaries with current interviews, Apted creates a fascinating mosaic of growing pains and pleasures.

Some of his media-made family turn out exactly as expected; others confound expectations, for better and worse. Yet any and all conclusions are in the eye of the beholder. For every viewer who may find ‘28 Up’ discouraging, there’s another struck by its optimism.

Open-ended and endlessly provocative, the film takes us beyond childhood’s end and into that great uncharted void known as adulthood. It would make Peter Pan weep.”

I don’t think Peter Pan would even recognize their names now. It’s 28 years later. Do you know where your young self is?

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