The film “56 Up” may be part of the most fundamental documentary concept ever. For all the topics and flavors that have come to the fore in documentary filmmaking, the underlying reason for being remains the same: document some nonfiction of interest for the historical record.
“Some non-fiction,” in this case, is a pot of kids. Kids one day are seven years old; then they are 14; then 21; 28, and so on. Imagine the documentary commitment (by the filmmaker and the subjects) to see what becomes of a sampling of individual human beings through the course of their lifetimes. There was a bit of upper, middle, and lower class theme orchestrated into this British mix, but the kids were fairly randomly chosen.
What do you get to document in these once every seven years snapshots? What distillations do you choose to show? What shape of facts and meaning and truth can you present? Does neatness count?
Did this inspired documentary concept result in an engagingly tuned documentary record from the initial “7 Up” onward? Is “56 Up” a good representative of what, at this point, is a 49 year old, eight part series? Not incidentally, is it satisfying to see the latest in the series without having seen any of the others?
The short answer is yes.
The longer answer is a kind of mundane yes, bolstered by a uniquely respectful curiosity that can’t help but be sucked into the realization of this project.
Director Michael Apted (part of this from the beginning) engineers fluid and helpful context from earlier ages. His daunting task includes the fact that 13 of the 14 individuals in the original bunch are still participating in the documentary. It does make “56 Up” a bit unavoidably long. That said, familiar and unfamiliar viewers will appreciate the juxtapositions of full-blown middle agers unfurled from youngsters to teens to budding and reckoning adults.
Whether it plugs you into more episodes in the series or not, the concept embodied in “56 Up” deserves a look see.