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'56 Up': Lives as TV, Back on TV

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Monday, Oct 14, 2013
This remarkable documentary series has offered glimpses of its subjects' experiences, versions of reality constructed and set into a complex dialogue with their viewers.

“There are a few things I would like to say,” essays Neil Hughes. And before he says them, he underlines, “I have tremendous good will toward the series.” That would be the Up documentary series, initiated by director Michael Apted in 1964, when he filmed 20 seven-year-olds living in and around London. Most of those subjects, including Neil, continued to appear in the films, which were made every seven years and broadcast on British TV.


Now, in the eighth movie, 56 Up, Neil talks not only about his life, per se, but also about his life as a documentary subject.

  
Premiering on PBS’ POV 14 October, the latest film again invites participants to reflect their lives. More than one of them uses the opportunity to reflect on their lives as film and TV subjects. The series has offered glimpses of such experiences, versions of reality constructed and set into a complex dialogue with their viewers.


With their lives created on and as TV, the kids who became adults during Up are now able to reflect on the process from ever greater distances. If the attention they’ve received hasn’t always been welcome, it has shaped them, as well as those who watched them. The films, so seemingly transparent, are also performative, reality TV before the concept emerged, personal and public lives mashed together.

See PopMatters’ review.


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