Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Day 5: Seven Up! & 7 Plus Seven

Someone: Give me the child and I will give you the man.

The Up movies are a fascinating film experiment in which a documentary crew follows the lives of a group of English people from childhood (at the age of seven) and catching up with them every seven years. I'd heard of the "Up" series before and thought it sounded like a fantastic use of the preservational quality of film. One of the movies came out when I was in college, but I didn't want to see it before seeing the others and, so, years later, I am finally (ugh I can't believe I'm going to type this) catching up. (ba-da-bing!) I find that I don't have much to say about the filmmaking in the two movies I watched last night and this afternoon as the movies were competent and nothing stood out in terms of great filmmaking or bad filmmaking. The very premise of the project overshadowed everything while I was watching it.

Seven Up, made in black and white in 1964, introduces us to the group of people when they're seven years old. It's a nice selection, encompassing a variety of children from different economic backgrounds. A narrator informs us that the purpose of the whole thing is to reveal those who will be adults in the year 2000. The children are interviewed about a selection of topics, from what careers they want to pursue (there's a lot of astronaut replies here), how they feel about the opposite sex, and the violence that seems inherent in childhood (I think all of them agree that violence is necessary sometimes) to questions about the economic and racial diversity in Britain (one well-to-do girl's response to what she thinks of "colored" people was quite shocking to me when she replies, "I don't know any colored people and I don't want to, thank you very much." Kids say the darndest things!). The movie was 40 minutes long and felt just right at this length, though, knowing that there would be many follow-ups, I wished that I had gotten to know their names a lot better so that I could keep track of them in later movies.

The thing that intrigued me the most while watching this movie was the way it resembled one of those nature documentaries about zebras or some other animal. I mean, seriously, I didn't realize this, but seven year olds act so much like baby animals it's ridiculous. They "play" at everything. I know that many animals learn how to do the things they'll do in adulthood by playing at it and I know that humans are just socially advanced primates, but watching a little boy talk about how he likes to read the Financial Times or another boy talking about being a missionary , it really comes through clearly how much they are playing at the roles of adulthood. Though the parents are never seen and other adult figures in this movie are primarily absent, it's hard not to see the influence certain adults must have had on the way these kids see and emulate adulthood.

The first follow-up, 7 Plus Seven, is in color and reunites the filmmakers with these people when they are 14. One of them has moved to Australia and many of those who were friends and interviewed as a team in Seven Up! no longer go to the same schools. The differences apparent and the similarities still there after seven years is amazing. They are asked, basically, the same questions. Some of their attitudes have changed, others remain the same, and others remain the same but are nuanced a bit (the well-to-do girl says she has nothing against colored people, but if she never met one she'd be okay with that). One of the boys recants his wish to be an astronaut, saying it was just childish dreaming, while another is pursuing being a jockey just as he said he would when he was seven. One interesting addition to the questions is whether or not they believe in God and why or why not. I was amazed at the way most of them answered the first part with assurance, but when asked why or why not, they seemed to struggle, finding answers deep within themselves.

Of note here is the way these teenagers seem to be so uncomfortable with themselves. Many of them who, previously looked at the camera or the interviewer when they were seven, now gaze down, afraid to make eye contact with anything. This is particularly present in the girls, I noticed. They are asked what they think of the documentaries themselves and many of them express concern that they don't see the point. Several express displeasure in having the repsonsibility of representing kids who share their background. There is often a struggle to express individuality that leads to a near argument between two of the boys about whether labor strikes are a democratic right. In this scene, the two that are debating are on the ends of a couch and the third boy, in the middle, looks at the camera and the interviewer uncomfortably.

I love this. All of this. I can't wait to see the rest of them. It's strange to think that these people that I can see as children and teenagers from the vantage point of young adulthood will, in the course of 2 more movies, outgrow me. I am interested to see if the filmmaking grows further as the people do, beyond the leap from b&w to color. These two films are part of a bold concept, executed cleanly, and fascinating to watch for anyone interested at all in what people are, how they live, and what it means to grow.

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