Notes on 49 Up

by Robert Nagle on 11/16/2006

in General,Video/Multimedia

Yesterday, I saw Apted’s 49 Up, the amazing documentary that tracks British children every seven years. It was as exhausting and emotionally satisfying as previous years. I saw 7 Up, 7+7, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up and 42 Up in about two weeks. On the other hand, I had to wait an entire year for 49 Up (and 7 more years for 56 Up). A few random observations/favorite moments

  • One person (forget which), when asked about what he was being guarded about, said, “I need to be guarded about what I’m being guarded with you about.”
  • The theme for 49 Up was maintaining marriage long term and balancing children with personal goals.
  • Most participants find the greatest joy/satisfaction in their lives through their children.
  • Apted made a conscious decision to move the focus squarely on the participants themselves and not on family members. (That happened after several divorces and personal disputes).
  • It is striking to see physical and psychological similarities in the people as they age
  • Most of the participants have beautiful houses with lovely patios.
  • Landscapes in Britian are gorgeous! Many have found a way to move away from London and live in some quiet neighborhood
  • Most participants complain that being in these films are a pain in the neck!
  • Participants have moved to Australia, U.S., Bulgaria, Spain. That really adds to the diversity.
  • I would love for Apted to produce the next installment, but realistically, will he be able to?
  • DVD has an interview between Apted and Roger Ebert. (Read the transcript here). They discuss how to present the death of someone within the documentary series. Apted had no clear solution, but warmed to Ebert’s idea of showing footage of the participant talking about himself or herself in his/her own voice.
  • I would love to see a reunion party of everybody for 56 Up.
  • Apted decided not to include a director’s commentary for 49 Up. He did one for 42 Up, which was more interesting than the film itself. That said, I understand and agree with his decision not to include a commentary track; it really detracts from the visual presentation of the material.
  • I remain impressed at how seamlessly the editor incorporates scenes from older films into the latest ones. Also, I’ve noticed how some older footage not actually appearing in a previous film are appearing in later episodes. As Apted explained in 42 Up commentary, something in 42 Up would remind him of something in the offline footage, which he would patch in.
  • The most interesting thing continues to be the “revisionist history” taking place with each episode. Participants acknowledge they were not totally candid about their lives in previous episodes. At the present episode, they are careful not to say too much, but after 7 or 14 years it becomes almost a part of their public history.
  • Nobody has experienced a significant amount of pain or sickness (thank god!).
  • In the interview with Ebert, Apted marks 1963 as being a milestone year, when lots of social change was occuring in UK and class differences became less important (it was also the year of the first Beatles album).
  • Interestingly, not one of the participants seems artistically inclined, not even as a hobby. But many are involved in volunteering/social work.
  • Digital video now makes the video look gorgeous (and I saw it on the widescreen–horray!).
  • I hope by now that Apted is offering honorariums to participants for their time and trouble. I would suggest offering $5000 + incidentals for a week’s worth of shooting. Perhaps $10,000. I hope he is not paying different sums to different people!

Here’s another interview with Michael Apted:

there’s a core personality that you see at seven that really doesn’t go away. But I like to think that we are masters of our own fates to a lesser and greater degree. But, nonetheless, it’s certainly true that in any of the industrial societies, there’s a deep unfairness at work, that some people get options and other people get a lot less option. But whether, of course, at the end of the day, they’re any less or more happy than the others, that’s a question only the viewer can answer. And one of the great problems I’ve always had doing the film is not to project my own middle-class neurosis about what happiness is. Happiness to me is, you know, a successful career, making money, my children and my marriage and all that, but, you know, other people have different value systems, and I have to respect that. And if other people haven’t bothered to search for a career and they’ve been happy to do what I would consider routine jobs, that doesn’t make them any less successful or any less or more happy than I am. And that was quite a hard lesson for me to learn, which I think I’ve learned over the years of doing this film.

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