Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle 42 Up

By Marjorie Baumgarten

MAY 15, 2000: 

D: Michael Apted. (Not Rated, 130 min.)

42 Up is the latest entry in the world-famous documentary series that has been widely praised as a fulfillment of cinema's greatest potential. I'm not sure the film lives up to the full scrutiny of such overblown hype, but it's most certainly a fascinating work and one that achieves something that could only be accomplished with a motion-picture camera and the gift of time. 42 Up is the sixth film in the Up series that has tracked 14 British citizens beginning when they were seven years of age and revisiting them every seven years for an update on their lives. However it doesn't matter whether you've seen some, all, or none of the series to make sense of what's going on. Director Michael Apted, who has been with the series since it began, intercuts old footage of the participants from various interview stages, to shed light on their present situations and ideologies. This is the heart of what these films try to capture: human growth and change. And it does not matter at what point you join the story, because it is ever-evolving and always in flux. It helps that Apted is a natural-born storyteller. He has successfully balanced a career of directing both documentaries and narrative fiction. Credits include such popular character studies as Coal Miner's Daughter, Continental Divide, and Gorillas in the Mist, as well as action fare like last year's James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. Apted brings his abilities for building characters to the documentary portraits in 42 Up. Thus, we see the children at age seven proclaiming what they intend to be when they grow up and what they want from life, and then have the uncommon luxury of comparing those children with the people they have become today. Much has changed but much has not. Both are equally fascinating. The film attempts to fulfill the original objective of the series, which was to examine the Jesuit premise: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man." In this sense the series becomes a British group portrait. Inherent in it are various biases and outgrowths of the times. Originally, it seems to have been more a study of the British class system, although now it seems to have become more individualized. Tellingly, few female children were selected as original members of the group. Three members (one of whom grew up to be a documentary filmmaker) declined to be interviewed for this edition, and we have to wonder how that skews the group portrait. We must also wonder how the celebrity that derived from growing up as fabricated film stars has altered these individuals' lives. Often, 42 Up seems to focus on the psychology of these people as they relate their life stories while the sociology takes a back seat. Here, the question arises whether these people are really the best observers of their own lives: "Trust the tale, not the teller" is always good advice. And 42 Up is long. At times it seems as if the entire British empire has been lined up for questioning. Still, this movie is a living artifact that does what movies do best: exist in time. May this series continue up, up, and beyond.

3 Stars

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