Gearing up for “56 Up” at the Wisconsin Film Festival

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” – Jesuit maxim attributed to Francis Xavier

I’m excitedly awaiting the screening of 56 Up at the Wisconsin Film Festival. [In-advance tickets are sold out already but they retain a few for day-of sale] This will be the latest of Michael Apted’s “7 Up series” which launched in the UK in 1964 with a 40 minute documentary that intended to prove that social class divisions were so strong in the United Kingdom that they were inescapable. Apted and his colleagues chose 14 children with 3 from boarding school, 2 from a children’s home, 4 from the poor working class East End of London, 2 from Liverpool suburbs, 1 from the country, and 1 upper middle class kid sort of abandoned to a boarding school. (only 4 of the kids were female).

The project was initially supposed to be a 1-off but Apted decided to come back 7 years later and again 7 years later, and so on.

There’s plenty we see in Apted’s subjects to bolster the theory that class controls lives. The rich kids – with the exception of Neil – do not suffer the travails of the working class set. But we do also see the exception to the class rule such as Tony the cabbie who courageously tries his hand at anything he desires and climbs into the middle class and multiple home ownership.

In truth, I’m not excited to see the film for its sociological or anthropoligical importance – though that’s acknowledged. I want to see this film because I’ve grown very fond of the 7 Up crew. I always look forward to my next visit with them as if we were old friends and we need to catch up with each other. I was glad to see in the last film that Paul was developing more self-confidence (he was the bricklayer in Australia) and that Symon seemed to be more happily married with his second wife (he is the one non-white person featured). I also find myself rooting for everybody’s continued success. I’m especially hoping that Neil’s old struggle with depression will be under control. He was heart-wrenchingly despondent in 21, 28, and 35 Up. I was so relieved to see him finding community connection and purpose in rural Cumbria by the time 49 Up came around.

One of Apted’s subjects lives in the Madison, Wisconsin area – Nick Hitchon.

nick hicheon

I would love to track him down for an interview BUT I am pretty sure he would hate that. So let’s settle for this excerpt from his conversation with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air:
Hitchon on why he doesn’t watch the Up films

“I don’t like the sound of my own voice. I think I look ridiculous, and I just am uncomfortable. … If I say that I am uncomfortable with this, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like the project, and it doesn’t mean that I am mad at Michael, but I am deeply uncomfortable doing the interviews. I pretend while I’m being interviewed that it’s just a chat. I pretend to myself that nobody else is watching, and I don’t want that particular bubble burst.”

Hitchon on whether he feels pressure to demonstrate positive change in his life every seven years

“Actually, no. Some of the people involved do feel that way. I never have. You see, I’ve been insulated from that because I’ve always been portrayed as somebody who started out quite disadvantaged, so anything that I did was always, ‘Oh, look how clever he was,’ you know. ‘He came from a background where it was going to be hard for him to get up in the morning.’ So, you know, I always look good.”

This year we have a pleasant surprise. One of Apted’s subjects who dropped out after 28 Up is back: Peter Davies. He credits his publicized criticism of Margaret Thatcher for the loss of his job as a teacher (he would subsequently become a lawyer).
Supposedly he’s back in because he wants to promote his band, The Good Intentions.
More power to him! There’s nothing that says Michael Apted is the only one who can reap a bit of profit from this beautiful, lengthy, unscientific, and sometimes awkward experiment.

peter davies

56 Up screens on April 12, 13, and 18 in Madison, Wisconsin. More details can be found HERE.

International screening schedule for 56 Up at the official 7 Up site.

Below is an interview with Apted on the 49 Up film. Here are a few notes I took from that: “The only way I can do it every 7 years is start with a blank sheet… I find that the way to give it life and to make it interesting is to approach each generation of the film with a fresh eye. ..You know, there’s a different tone to all of them (each 7 year visit). I think all I have to do is show up – not try and preempt what they’re going to say, not try and guide people through it – not try and have them say what I think they should say – try to take myself out of the equation and let them speak. ….My job in a sense is just to present it and not to have my voice as it were projected through the film… That’s quite a hard thing to do.”

Here’s a 59 minute interview of Apted which delves into all areas of his multi-faceted career in film. ” ‘The Richard Dunn Memorial Interview: Michael Apted’ from the annual MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival 2012.” Apted has also directed the following films: Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorillas In The Mist (1988), Thunderheart (1992), Nell (1994), the Tiamamen Square documentary Moving the Mountain (1994), The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Enough (2002)

Summaries for the 7 Up Gang
Michael Apted Started as a researcher on the original Seven Up!, made in 1964 to test the Jesuit maxim “give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. He directed the next seven films, moving their emphasis from the political to the personal.

Last filmed in 49 Up, he was married to fellow teacher Penny and teaching at a prestigious public school, St Albans School, in Hertfordshire.

Jackie, Sue and Lynn
Jackie Bassett appeared in Seven Up! with friends Sue Davis and Lynn Johnson. She was last seen living in a council flat in Glasgow. Sue is raising two children as a single parent. Lynn, who battled a brain condition and has two children, made a career as a school librarian.

Symon and Paul
Symon Basterfield, the only non-white participant, and Paul Kligerman stayed at the same children’s home. Symon had five children and by 49 Up had become a foster parent with his wife. Former bricklayer Paul was last seen working for a sign-making company.

John, Andrew and Charles
All three boys were from a privileged background and went to the same private pre-preparatory school in Kensington, London. John Brisby became a barrister and by 49 Up was a QC with a house in London and another in the country. Andrew Brackfield became a solicitor and later married and had a family. Of the three, only he has been in all the Up programmes. Charles Furneaux, a documentary-maker, chose not to appear in the series after 21 Up, aside from a photograph of him in later programmes.

Wealthy Suzanne “Suzy” Lusk married a solicitor, lives in Bath and has three grown-up children.

Working-class Tony Walker from the East End of London owns two properties, one a holiday home in Spain. He is married with three children, and he and his wife are grandparents.

Peter and Neil
Peter Davies has changed from teaching to law and lives in Liverpool, where he plays in a band called The Good Intentions. Neil Hughes, who has struggled through periods of homelessness and mental illness, is now a councillor in Cumbria.

from The Independent

More on their origins:
“There were four rich children – three boarding school boys (blond, stuffy John Brisby, fey brunet Andrew Brackfield, and cute brunet Charles Furneaux) and a girl from a wealthy family (snobby Suzy Dewey); two boys from a children’s home (black Simon Basterfield- although in later films billed as Symon, not Simon, and white introverted Paul Kligerman); four children from the poor working class East End of London- a boy (short, outgoing jockey wannabe Tony Walker) and three would-be lifelong girlfriends (blond ugly duckling Jackie Bassett, quiet, short Lynn Johnson, and tall pretty brunet Sue Sullivan); two middle class boys from Liverpool suburbs (outgoing, bright Neil Hughes, and average Peter Davies); and two ‘wildcard’ kids, who would turn out to be the most self-fulfilled of the fourteen. The first was an upper middle class sensitive blond boy whose father abandoned him to the English boarding school system, and wanted to be a missionary when young- Bruce Balden. The last was the only one from the English countryside- Nick Hitchon, who had a bit of a glow about him from even the first film.” – Hackwriters


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