“The idea of looking at a bunch of people over time and how they evolve, that was a really nifty idea,” Nick says in 56 Up, the eighth film following a group of British men and women every seven years since they were seven in 1964. “It isn’t the picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy. It’s a picture of everyman. It’s how a person — any person — how they change. It’s not an absolute accurate picture of me, but it’s a picture of somebody, and that’s the value of it.” Michael Apted, who was a researcher on the first film and has directed each one since, meets with thirteen of the original fourteen subjects (Charles has not participated since 21 Up), including Peter, who sat out the previous three films but reappears now in order to promote his band. Apted and editor Kim Horton masterfully blend old and new footage, focusing on one or two subjects at a time, interweaving clips from throughout the years as each person relates where they are today in their life. With age comes greater understanding of not only where they’ve been and what they’ve experienced but of the worth of the series itself, which has been both positive and negative for various individuals, some of whom have found themselves being publicly ridiculed in the media at times. Suzy playfully compares the series to a bad book that she can’t put down, a story she has to finish even though she hates it. The heart of the show has always been an examination of the class-based system in England — the Jesuit motto “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man” has been used in the series since the beginning — and it is fascinating to see how the dreams of the wealthier, more privileged children ended up coming true while those of the poorer kids tended to disintegrate early on.
Apted, who has also directed such fiction movies as Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, and the James Bond flick The World Is Not Enough, shapes 56 Up in such a way that it works whether the viewer has seen none, some, or all of the previous films, maintaining an involving pace that seems to just fly by despite the film’s 144-minute length. Although it doesn’t pretend to be a scientific study, 56 Up is a fascinating, judgment-free look at the evolution of a group of diverse people that will have viewers examining their own situations in similar ways, exploring their past, present, and future with new insight. Apted and subject Tony Walker will be at the IFC Center opening weekend, participating in Q&A sessions following the 3:55 and 7:00 screenings on January 5 and introducing the 10:00 show. Apted will be back on January 6 for a Q&A at the 3:55 screening and to introduce the 7:00 show.