Watching Michael Apted's "Up" documentaries is an emotional experience, an uncanny sensation of watching lives fast-forward before your eyes. In 1964, Apted (then working as a researcher) first visited a group of British 7-year-olds, interviewing them about their lives, hopes, fears and dreams. Since then, Apted has revisited the group every seven years, letting us weather the ups and downs of life with them. Through the magic of film, the child is juxtaposed with the adult; we see how life has changed them — or not changed them.
In "49 Up," Apted's group is firmly rooted in middle age. (Twelve of the original 14 are here, an increase since the last film.) Nearly all seem to find the experience of looking at their childhood selves unsettling, and a few express ambivalence — and even hostility — toward the project.
Jackie, a single mother in Scotland, expresses some anger at how Apted has depicted her. "I think I'm more intelligent than you thought I would be," she says. Suzy, the upper-class girl who once seemed painfully uncomfortable on camera, described the "Up" process as "very difficult, very painful, not an experience I've enjoyed in any way. ... People read into it what they think we think." She's right, and part of what's moving about the project is the way the subjects change from the openness of children to the guarded, careful presentations of adults.
There are fewer surprises in "49 Up" than previous editions; even Neil, once a homeless drifter, seems settled and calm. Most of the subjects' lives, for better or worse, seem in place. One of the happier stories is that of quiet Bruce, who at 7 broke our hearts by telling the camera, "My heart's desire is to see my daddy." (He was sent to boarding school during his parents' divorce; his father moved to another continent.) Looking at his schoolboy self, he observes, "he looks a little bit lost, a little bit sad." Just married in "42 Up," he's now a father, and you may well find a lump in your throat watching him with his children: That "lost boy" seems a lifetime away.
The marriage of Tony, the East End boy who once wanted to be a jockey, seemed to be on the rocks in "42 Up," when he openly discussed infidelity. Seven years, though, have brought harmony to his life: Still with wife Debbie, he proudly shows Apted his holiday home in Spain, and frolics with his young grandchildren as the camera watches. He describes his relationship with the new generation, movingly, as "an obsession of love."
It's unclear how long this project can continue, but Apted (now in his mid-60s) shows no signs of slowing down. (His period drama "Amazing Grace" will be in theaters in early 2007.) But I'll wait breathlessly for "56 Up," and hope this brave group will speak to the camera again; giving us the gift of a share in their lives.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com