Saturday, June 18, 2011


I first saw bits and pieces of this when I lived in Philadelphia back in the early '90s. Their PBS station showed good stuff. Cha and I watched the entire series over the past couple months, following Bruce, Tony, Neil, Suzie and her friends, Paul, etc. from age 7 to age 49. The 1st documentary began with the suggestion that you can already see the eventual adult in the 7-year old child. Every 7 years the filmmakers made a new doc with the original subjects who chose to participate.

Class and education play a big role in the series: can people in England change social status? How important is education in determining eventual success? You get to follow some blue-bloods through boarding school to Oxford, and a few tough East End kids through public schools. Some of the results are surprising, some are not. My favorite bits happen later in the series, when the subjects begin to critique the manner of their presentation. Occasionally they break into outright rows with the producer/interviewer over editing or narrative choices.

If you watch these, you will choose favorites to root for. Someone should make a documentary about people who watch these documentaries, and which characters they are drawn to. I find them all interesting, but I'm particularly drawn to Neil, the restless intellectual who becomes homeless and nearly goes mad, and to Paul, who grew up in a shelter for boys but who moves to Australia with his mum and dad and forges a new life and identity--or Bruce, who read Maths at Cambridge and chose to teach in public schools in the East End.

Hopefully there will be a 56 Up--it should arrive soon by my calculations. I'd like to know how everyone turns out.

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