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56 Up

This documentary is “a complete fraud,” says one of its subjects. It’s a sentiment voiced often in 56 Up, the latest in Michael Apted’s visionary, often-depressing series that has documented the lives of 14 disparate Britons, in seven-year installments, since they were 7 years old in 1964. An entire generation has grown up with them. John, the above-quoted skeptic, resists the notion that social class determines one’s future: He is, of course, congenitally upper-crust rich and has remained so. The lower-class men and women—who have also remained so, though most have grown more comfortable over the years—have a different perspective. They are more likely to talk about the limitations of possibility, or about one-time chances they missed. While 7 Up and 14 Up and 21 Up were concerned only with the future, this more wizened documentary now looks mostly backward: at dreams that seem inaccessible to a life that has inexorably become something else. For those who’ve not watched all the previous installments, 56 Up is largely of anthropological or cultural interest; for those who have, there’s a wistful sadness to the affair. Each life is accorded only 10 minutes and seems somehow diminished by the attention. You have known these people for too long and the time is now too brief, a phone call across the Atlantic expanse. Still, it’s one of the great journeys in documentary film; it's unlikely there will be another one like it.

Special Note

Cinema 21
  • Running Time:
  • Release Date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
  • Critic's Score: A
  • Watch the trailer

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