DVD Review: 49 UP

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Based on the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is 7, and I will show you the man,“ the Up series began in 1963 as a one-shot documentary (directed by Paul Almond) showing how a diverse group of English seven-year-olds– boys and girls from different regions and varied socio-economic backgrounds–viewed their world. It was a way to project what Britain might be like when these kids grew up to be adults in the year 2000.

In what’s become a life-long project, award-winning director Michael Apted took over with 7 Plus Seven and revisited the series’ real life characters every seven years to update audiences on their doings at ages 21, 28, 35, 42 and, now, 49– making Up television’s longest- running reality show, and an absolutely unique and brilliant cinematic achievement. Before its theatrical release last month, a boxed DVD set of all the previous episodes was made available in 2004 to boost buzz in anticipation of the latest installment.

You needn’t have seen other Ups to grasp and get hooked on 49. Of course, it helps to know a little about the characters being profiled, smartly narrated clips from previous episodes provide essential backstories for Tony the wannabe jockey who became a cabbie, Lynn the librarian who brings joy to disabled children, Nick the scientist who moved to the US to become a professor and all the other characters– beginning with their childhood circumstances, aspirations and expectations, and following them through their teenage angst, romances, marriage, creating families, breaking up, changing careers and other life events both meaningful and mundane.

As it turns out, most of the boys and girls have matured into fairly comfortable, settled lifestyles. AT 49, Tony’s still driving a cab but, fed up with Britain’s economic and social policies, he’s moving his entire family– wife, kids and grandkids– to Spain. Meanwhile, Nick and his wife are trying to decide whether to move back to the UK.

Their lives are not the stuff of great drama. What‘s fascinating about them is that they’re ordinary the same way we are and experience the minutia and difficulties we all go through. They’re a reflection of our own life stories.

In 49, they admit the filming process has been very difficult for them at times and explain why they’ve stuck with it.

In one of the DVD’s extra features, Roger Ebert interviews Michael Apted, who expresses concern and sadness that some of the characters may decide not to appear in the next episode.

If you’ve been an UP fan, 49’s a welcome opportunity to visit and catch up with dear old friends. Even if you’re a newcomer, you’ll find yourself wanting more. But you’ll have to wait another seven years for 56 Up to hit the screens for another UPdate.

Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).