Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Real Reality TV: The Up Series

Probably one of the most rewarding things I've ever watched has been all 7 episodes in Michael Apted's Up Series, which Kim and I finished watching last Sunday.

In 1964, Granada Television commissioned as a program in which they would interview 14 Seven year olds in London and surrounding areas from all different social, economical, and educational backgrounds.
The purpose of the original program was to paint a picture of England's future, and was based off the premise of Francis Xavier's quote: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." The Show was called 7 Up and was apparently a great success.

Yet, a really special thing happened. Seven years later they returned to find all 14 of the children in the original 40 minute television program and taped them at the age of 14 in a show they called 7 Plus Seven. In this reprise, they asked similar questions and tracked their hopes and aspirations even over the past 14 years.

This film was followed up every seven years, and its last installment came out in 2005. Through 21 up, 28 up, 35 up, 42 up, and 49 up, it's an incredible experience. I know the original intentions of the program seem to be about the role of social class in development, and while it is that, the films are even more so an amazing experience unto themselves. Even the story in time becomes less central to England as they film in Australia, the United States, former Soviet countries, and the middle East as appropriate.

In the United States with MTV's the Real World, and Survivor we became reality show junkies, but nothing is as real as what you experience in the Up Series because people are held accountable to their dreams and lives. Many of the participants talk about how they hate being interviewed because it's a painful experience to dig through the past seven years and reflect on the different films that have come out already. There is unachieved dreams, failed marriages, and rough stages of life.
Yet there is also hope and univeresal life stages and principles that hold these participants together and connect their story with any viewer. There is exciting achievements, there's the birth of children, job developments, etc. that are very exciting to see as well.

To me it is also an interesting film expirement in terms of technology and entertainment. The production methods and styles change over the 5 different decades these films have been made. And in the same way you see changing technology and film style, you also see the expected cultural changes and shifts in the second part of the 21st century including dress, hair styles, and so forth.

Watching these documentaries has really been one of the most fascinating things I have experienced, and I can not wait until 56 up comes out in 2012.


Terence Towles Canote said...

The "Up" series is one of the most interesting things ever done on television. And I think the additional shows, done every seven years makes it all the more better. It is interesting to see how these people have changed throughout their lives. It is truly reality TV, as opposed to such contrivances we have here in the States as The Real World and Survivor.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you bring these up because I'm currently making my way through the series having watched "21 Up" yesterday. Better than any reality TV currently on the air.

Will said...

Thanks for this review. I have been wanting to see the UP series for years, and had no idea they were all available together in a set.

Makes you wonder how much it alters these people's lives, since they know that after another 7 years, the camera crews will be back.

Gives a little forced Trumanesque goodness to their life, maybe.

Deborah said...

I took on the Up series last year as a project, as 49 Up was eligible for a 2006 documentary Oscar (but alas). So within about 3–6 weeks I watched the whole series.

I was stunned by it. It's one of the best things I've ever seen. Surely I have favorite episodes; 28 and 42 are outstanding, and I also love 49.

But I find myself thinking about it. Wondering how Neil is. I actually miss Nick. Which is, I dunno, certifiable. But I feel sad I won't see him for another six years.

Anonymous said...

I love The Up Series. Seven Up was the first DVD on my queue when I started doing Blockbuster Total Access. I envy those who grew up contemporaneously to these individuals. I feel that this series has a little more meaning for them. Also, I think it would have been interesting to watch the series from the beginning, instead of watching one right after another. These are minor complaints that would add to my experience of watching the film, but do not greatly detract with their absence.

Last, for the record, I love Survivor and The Amazing Race. I'm just putting that out there.