Above, check out a gallery of nine of the subjects through the years
BOY CULTURE REVIEW: **** out of ****
It's hard to rave about a movie that left me so depressed, but it would be a crime not to recognize what a treasure the whole Up series, not least of which the latest installment, is.
The premise began in 1964, when British TV filmed a documentary about the lives of 14 seven-year-olds from all walks of life in order to shine a light on the country's caste system. Over time, the hope became that they could all be re-interviewed every seven years forever. Nine have been in every installment, three have missed between one and three and one refused to appear after the age of 21.
This is not reality TV, where people auditioning to be famous agree to meet for lunch in order to fight and thus entertain the world. This series is the real deal, intimate, often painfully revelatory one-on-ones with the subjects, their mates, their extended familes. If you've never seen any of them, pick any one and you'll be hooked.
56 Up, directed (as have all the others except for the introductory installment) by Michael Apted, runs 138 minutes filled with not only ample glimpses into the love lives and careers of the now 56-year-old "kids," but also allows each the space to complain about the negatives of being in the films, including feeling misunderstood, misrepresented or shown two-dimensionally.
What makes the films—and this film—work is the sometimes breathtaking insights into life that come from seemingly mundane interviews conducted over the course of a couple of days every seven years. Via snippets from the previous films, one sees the innocence of youth, the budding of sexuality, the ups and downs of romantic love, the thrills of success and the agony of failure. Most movingly, now that the participants are closing in on retirement, one sees a fuller arc of life and of the physical body. It's impossible to watch and not walk away wondering: "What would I say for myself about the years I've been here?" One wonders if one would be jaded like local politician Neil, optimistic like barrister John, beaten down by life like Jackie, a modest and spunky success story like Tony?
But sometimes hard questions need to be asked, and that's something the Up Series has recognized from the beginning.
56 Up opens in New York today. Click here for other showings.
BOY CULTURE REVIEW: **1/2 out of ****
I recently caught a one-off screening of the interesting documentary Codebreaker, about the life and unjust persecution of one of the 20th Century's most brilliant men, Alan Turing. Turing's innate ability to decipher patterns led him to work for the English government at Bletchley Park during WWII, when he became the person to decode Nazi messages pertaining to U-boat movements by using a machine he invented. In fact, he is considered the father of A.I. as well as the first person to present a design that would become developed into the computer. "Genius" is thrown around a lot, but it seems to have applied to Turing—and then some.
Unfortunately, he was gay during a time when homosexuality was illegal in England. When a young trick ripped him off, Turing naively called the cops and explained the situation honestly. For that, he was arrested, convicted and chose chemical castration over a lengthy prison term, having been under the impression that the treatment could easily be reversed. Reversed, yes, but not easily—by the time it would have worn off, severe depression had taken him over and he'd committed suicide via a cyanide-laced apple. He was 41.
In Codebreaker, directors Nic Stacey and Clare Beavan somewhat awkwardly re-enact Turing's visits with a psychiatrist, intertwining those with all-too-brief interviews with some of the people who worked with him during WWII—it's incredible that so many are still alive nearly 70 years later, and each one provides useful anecdotes about Turing the man and about their lives as behind-the-scenes war heroes.
What turned me off about Codebreaker was that it seems unfocused, especially in the beginning, and rather repetitive. I felt we were told repeatedly how he was the father of the computer after the point had been made.
I'd still recommend checking out this informative-in-fits documentary—the subject deserves as much illumination as possible.
Click here to request a screening of Codebreaker near you.