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`Seven Up' Kids Return at Age 49

`Seven Up' Kids Return at Age 49

Every seven years, they star in a movie about their own lives.
Director Michael Apted's "49 Up" continues an unparalleled experiment in sociological scrutiny, chronicling the family, career, health and spiritual ups and downs of a dozen Brits whose lives have been under the lens since they were 7 in the 1960s.
While some liken the series to an early form of reality television, Apted said the intent is far different.
"My definition of reality television is that it's totally contrived. You create a situation, not a normal situation, put people in it and see how they respond," said Apted, whose films include the James Bond flick "The World Is Not Enough," the Loretta Lynn drama "Coal Miner's Daughter" and the upcoming "Amazing Grace," about an 18th century British lawmaker seeking to abolish slavery.
"I don't put people in these films in a contrived situation. It really tries to capture life as it is."
"49 Up," which aired last year on British television, opens Friday in U.S. theaters and debuts Nov. 14 on DVD.
With the subjects now 49, the latest cinematic checkup finds some significant developments over the last seven years.
College professor Nick is divorced and remarried. Lynn, a librarian, faces job uncertainty because of budget cuts. After a falling out, Simon has patched things up with three of his five children from a previous marriage, and he and his second wife now take in foster kids.
Neil, the lost soul who was an effervescent 7-year-old but wound up a homeless wanderer in Scotland at the time of "28 Up," was back in London seven years ago, pulling his life together and dabbling in politics. In "49 Up," Neil has moved to rural Cumbria, where he remains in politics with the local council.
"He's the one people are most interested to see, frankly, to see if he's still above ground," Apted said. "I have to say, he seemed this time to be as near as I've ever seen to 7 when he had that twinkle in his eye."
A researcher on 1964's "Seven Up," Apted decided to continue the series, revisiting the children at age 14. Two participants dropped out in their 20s, but the other 12 have stuck it out, some occasionally skipping a film only to return later.
Apted, 65, has become strong friends with the participants, relationships he said that are almost like family ties.
"I trust him absolutely. He's been there since I was a 7-year-old kid. If I can't trust him, who can I trust?" one of Apted's subjects, taxi driver Tony Walker, told The Associated Press. "I feel really proud and privileged to be part of it."
Half of the participants generally are willing to appear, but the other half require coaxing every seven years, finding the documentaries intrusive, Apted said.
One participant, Jackie, coping with rheumatoid arthritis and living on disability benefits, has a testy exchange with Apted in "49 Up," saying he edits the films to depict the subjects not as they are but as he sees them.
"This one maybe, maybe, is the first one that's about us and not your perception of us," Jackie tells Apted.
Well-to-do attorney John says his appearances in the series have helped drum up support for a children's charity he oversees in Bulgaria. But the trade-off has been opening his life to public inspection, and he ponders what use the films might have beyond voyeurism.
"I bitterly regret that the headmaster of the school where I was when I was 7 pushed me forward for this series, because every seven years, a little pill of poison is injected," he says in "49 Up."
"It's like `Big Brother.' ... It is actually real-life TV, with the added bonus that you can see people grow old, lose their hair, get fat. Fascinating, I'm sure. But does it have any value? That's a different question."
Apted hesitates over the broader sociological value the films might have.
"I don't know if it contains any truths about the human condition, but I think the simple scope of it is revealing and original," Apted said. "What it does do is celebrate the drama of the ordinary life. The drama of marriage and jobs and kids. That's universal."
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Updated : 2021-04-23 07:23 GMT+08:00