RIP Michael Apted
January 8, 2021 2:07 PM   Subscribe

posted by dgould at 2:32 PM on January 8 [25 favorites]


Guess this means there won't be a 70up?
posted by seasparrow at 2:49 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]

posted by oceanjesse at 2:52 PM on January 8

I suppose I assume there’s always been a plan to finish it without him. Certainly he expected his much younger subjects to outlive him.

An incredible project that has given me a lot to think about over the years. He’ll be missed.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:03 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry to read this, but getting nine of the films done was already a monumental work. At some level, I assumed as I did with Neil Armstrong, that he'd just live forever.

Guess this means there won't be a 70up?

There are probably a few admirers who could take up the mantle. The bigger question is do the subjects want to put it to rest, or become minor public figures for a few months every seven years until they are all dead?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:03 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

who remembers the dog killing the bunny in the background?

the -Up series is a treasure
posted by elkevelvet at 3:07 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]

posted by brujita at 3:13 PM on January 8

posted by Jess the Mess at 3:40 PM on January 8

posted by Glinn at 3:55 PM on January 8

7, I mean, .
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 4:01 PM on January 8

Guess this means there won't be a 70up?

He mentioned in a few interviews over the last couple decades that he recognised that he wouldn't be there to see the end of this series and had put in place contingencies for his death.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:13 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]

posted by belarius at 4:17 PM on January 8

posted by daybeforetheday at 4:22 PM on January 8

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:26 PM on January 8

posted by bonobothegreat at 4:31 PM on January 8

God dammit.

posted by Navelgazer at 4:37 PM on January 8

posted by socialjusticeworrier at 4:44 PM on January 8

If I can quote my own tweet, “I hardly know what to say about these films except it's one of the best things humans have done with cameras.”
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:59 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]

posted by doogyrev at 5:14 PM on January 8

I remember the experience of seeing 21-Up when I was in college. At that point there wasn't so much life to recap for each of the subjects and the film was very cohesive and focused (the later ones I saw felt a bit unwieldy and summative by comparison). I found it profoundly moving and thought-provoking, so much so that it was almost a religious experience, or at the very least a formative experience you carried with you for a long long time.
posted by jabah at 5:18 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]

The Seven Up series is as great an artistic achievement and chronicle of humanity as the Decameron or Brothers Karamazov, and we have Apted to thank for giving it to the world.

Godspeed, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:22 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]

Bruce is one of the finest human beings on the planet.

Neil was struggling, and had been struggling, deep waters sucking him under; watching Neil drowning was an every seven year horror show. And then Bruce, who I had pegged as an obviously good man but somewhat stiff, a bit dizzy, a bit ditzy, he came across a goody two-shoes to my distrusting, working class eyes -- Bruce opened his heart, and his life. and he pulled Neil in, and helped him. And not just by throwing some money at him but instead by actually caring about him, bringing Neil not only out of the water but into his life. In a word: love. Bruce gave Neil love.

It made me want to cheer. It still does.


The camera was relentless, Apted was not cruel but he was honest, is was a documentary and he documented these peoples lives. I can't imagine living under that camera even once, much less over my lifetime; I suspect that Apted spent an awful lot of time saying "Please. Pretty please. Pretty please with sugar on top." to get many of these people back, and then back again.

He made sure it was kept clean. The whole thing is great. Apted gave us one hell of a lot.

posted by dancestoblue at 5:26 PM on January 8 [13 favorites]

posted by Alterscape at 6:03 PM on January 8


I'd like to catch up to the Up series but they're not available at all on streaming and it's $180 for the disks.
posted by octothorpe at 6:15 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


When the last film was released there was a long-form article about it and Apted in the LATimes that spelled out how his teammate -- co-producer, maybe, a younger woman IIRC -- would continue on after he was gone. One aspect of that was that in recent years she had made it a project to stay in touch with all of the subjects in the in-between years. Turns out at the beginning they didn't do that, and at times it was a project even to find some of the people again. No longer.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:42 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]

Mark Antony: Winter does not last forever. Spring comes. Snows melt.

Scipio: That is a threat!

Mark Antony : No, I assure you, that is no threat. Snows always melt.

-'Rome', season 1. Apted- director.
posted by clavdivs at 7:22 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I've only seen 28 up and 35 up. The films felt intimate and revealing, and made a strong impression on me (I'm just a few years younger than the subjects). I too would like to catch up on the series.
posted by dougfelt at 7:23 PM on January 8

I have mixed feelings about the project.

Yes, it is undoubtedly one the most starkly effective and influential uses of the medium ever.

But also never felt okay about the lack of choice the participants had as children in the original program. The regret and even bitterness that some have felt as adults about being unwittingly used in that way is genuine, serious, and compelling. I have never found the series easy viewing or particularly uplifting.

Yet I have watched them all. So, guilty as charged.

In fairness to Apted, it was a different time, he did acknowledge this fundamental ethical issue, did give the participants the chance to air their grievances about it all, and, of course, they have always had the option to withdraw from further participation.

I ended up not having children, but if I had there is no way I would allow them to participate in such a project. You can't recall that shit.
posted by Pouteria at 7:34 PM on January 8

There are ways to watch the UP series, I believe they are on Amazon for rental, and of course less legal ways they are easily available. But $1.99 per series is worth it on Amazon.

I have not seen the latest one, but I've seen all the others. It's a very fascinating thing and an important work to try to understand humanity.
posted by chaz at 7:38 PM on January 8

I rewatched all of them over the last year (except 63, which I have no idea how to watch), with my 10yo. She loved them as much as I did. Several memorable lines have become catchphrases in our house -- mostly ones from the early films that got repeated several times.

* Tony: "Oh yes oh yes oh yes!"
* Nick: "I don't answer questions like that."
* Paul: "Say I don't like greens, which I don't...."
* John (?): "I read the Financial Times."
* (destroys rabbit in background)

I realize that the impressions I have of those people aren't who they really are, but the impressions certainly feel like real people that I know well.

I imagine it would be awful (at least every seven years) to be any of them. Random people quoting your childhood on the internet, and all.
posted by gurple at 7:42 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]

posted by briank at 7:44 PM on January 8

My wife and I do some version of the I don't like greens speech once a week.

Say you had a wife, they'd...say you had to eat what they cooked you, and say, I don't like greens, well I don't! And say she said, "You have to eat what you get" so I'd...I don't LIKE greens, so she gives me greens...and that's it.
posted by anhedonic at 9:13 PM on January 8 [5 favorites]

posted by dannyboybell at 9:15 PM on January 8


+1 on quoting the "Greens" bit with my wife, probably weekly. Along with "I like to read the headlines," "They'd like to go for a trip to the country, and we'd like to visit the city!" "That's my fondest wish - no one knows that, only you!"
posted by SoundInhabitant at 1:19 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


I had minor surgery in August 2019 and ended up rewatching all of them, including the one that was released in June of that year. It's one of the few works that I feel genuine regret I will most likely never find the time to do a dissertation or monograph-length piece on (the other being 80s & 90s Star Trek). I'd have first seen probably the 1998 and 2005 ones at home, because my mother is also a fan.

As a Brit, I find the class stuff powerfully interesting (though some of the classism and paternalism, particularly in the earlier ones towards the working-class kids, was painful to sit through). The few times later on when Jackie really has it out with Apted are fascinating, where he's insistent that her life is one particular kind of narrative (single mother, disability benefits) and she's insistent that it's still a good life that has meaning for her. And some of the more granular class stuff, like the minor distinctions in direction between Andrew and John's lives. Both have the best education money can buy as kids and young adults, but Andrew's life veers more upper-middle-class (solicitor, skiing holidays, second home in Yorkshire, private education for his kids) whereas John's veers slightly more pure upper-class (barrister, Bulgarian philanthropy and classical concerts, even his tailoring). Having been educated myself among a lot of people who straddled the John/Andrew line (although my own class background is different) I find that stuff particularly interesting.

The teen and early 20s installments feel the most exploitative somehow, and you can see this in the tone of a lot of the interactions (don't even get me started on the plying Jackie/Sue/Lynn with drinks in the hope of getting a more interesting interaction from the 21 film) - these are people who are now old enough to understand what they're doing and that it will bring them a certain kind of notoriety, but probably not old enough to process what that means for their lives and how it feels. With that in mind, it's incredibly that so many of them stuck with the project.

Then there are just the sheer number of life narratives the series covers, some of them fantastic illustrations of how long life can be and how much it can digress from the direction one might have expected early on. Nick (whom, given his cancer diagnosis in the last one, I'm kind of cheered up to assume has outlived Apted nonetheless) starting out as a promising researcher and realising later in life that his area of study was a scientific dead-end. The difference between the brittle, chain-smoking Suzy we see at 21 and her later-life process of becoming a grief counsellor after losing her parents. Sue's classic "first marriage didn't work out but that didn't prevent me from a happy partnership in the end" narrative. The collective assumption that Neil might not make it, given his earlier life, and the joy of him having later found meaning in faith and politics and having the chance at a quiet life in France. The disappointment but not the surprise of Bruce's transformation from a principled teacher in inner-city London and Bangladesh to a cricket dad at a nice Quaker school. As a writer of fiction, I find this much richer as source material than other fiction, because of how much realer it is.

The impact of trauma, too, is much more apparent on the boys who were in care during the first series. Symon later in life, having previously stated he'd be happy driving a forklift in the frozen sausage warehouse forever, reflecting that he wished he'd pushed himself more but acknowledging that he didn't have the internal drive to do so. Paul working hard throughout his life to ensure his family have better lives than he had growing up, struggling obviously with his own self-worth in every film, from a 21yo realising he can't become a phys ed teacher without a university degree that he doesn't believe he'd be accepted onto a course for, to a much older man clearly getting gradually more comfortable talking about depression, for want of a better word, after many years have passed. Paul's speech about greens that anhedonic quotes above, demonstrating the kind of brain at that age of seven that's already running through every possibility and trying to prevent the bad ones from happening, no matter how likely they are to happen (and I feel him on this because I also had a traumatic childhood and this kind of anxiety-problem-solving brain from a young age). This project makes the challenges of early life trauma much more visible, to the point that I struggle to comprehend the fact that, nearly sixty years after the first film, formal psychiatry and psychology still don't do a great job of recognising the huge impact that early trauma can have on a person's life.

Even just the sheer flavour of the near past, the past my parents grew up in, that I partly grew up in. Tony as a young man at the dog track at Hackney Wick that doesn't exist any more, all the East End stuff that interests me deeply because it's part of the heritage of the culture I grew up in but it's also alien because it's not my personal cultural heritage. Even just watching this set of children's faces grow up into adult faces, to see how much of the adult appearance is visible in the child and how much is still mutable. There's just so much rich human material in this series, even though I wanted to throw things at the screen many, many times when hearing Apted talk down to some but not all of his subjects based on his perception of their class.

(As an aside, I strongly suspect that one of the main reasons I didn't get diagnosed with autism as a child is because one of my abiding, lifelong special interest has been people. In an anthropological rather than a social context, but which looked enough like being adequately socialised to the adults around me at that time that no one noticed I was studying that world from beyond it rather than integrating myself into it. I'm thankful that this project exists, as it helps me channel some of that intense interest privately and in ways that don't weird other people out, thanks to the willingness of these people to put their lives on film for my consumption.)

One thing I would say about watching them all in quick succession is that it does get very repetitive - it's one thing to watch a show every seven years that mines the archives of decades of previous footage, and quite another to watch all of them in one week. The catchphrases gurple mentions appear over and over again. For people interested in watching, some of the earlier ones are on YouTube, and there was one where I had to get creative with VPNs and an online streaming service from a country I do not live in (this service still seems to have all nine films available, message me if you want a link).
posted by terretu at 1:22 AM on January 9 [32 favorites]

posted by quazichimp at 2:14 AM on January 9

posted by valkane at 2:22 AM on January 9

I suppose I assume there’s always been a plan to finish it without him. Certainly he expected his much younger subjects to outlive him.

Your comment made me curious how much younger. Apted was born in 1941 and Seven Up! debuted in 1964, making his subjects born in 1957, which makes them 16 years younger.

Also, props to his non-documentary work - - especially Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas In The Mist, and The World Is Not Enough.
posted by fairmettle at 3:52 AM on January 9 [5 favorites]

As a random person from Scandinavia, it puzzles me that I've never heard about the Up Series before reading this post. I guess it's just not that well-known around here.
posted by WalkingAround at 4:56 AM on January 9

He made one of the only movies filmed in my hometown of Morristown, NJ, a mostly forgotten thing called Firstborn. It's not a totally successful film but the supporting cast is amazing: Terri Garr, Peter Weller, Robert Downey, Jr., Sarah Jessica Parker and Corey Haim. Unfortunately, the lead, Christopher Collet, isn't very good and has to carry most of the film.
posted by octothorpe at 5:22 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

posted by doctornemo at 6:47 AM on January 9

How many libraries own, or make available streaming access to, copies of the Up series?
posted by doctornemo at 6:48 AM on January 9

I was a PA on a show back in the 90s where he directed one week's episode. He was very nice to someone who could only bring him a bottle of water or a copy of the day's sides (the portion of the script that would be shot that day), which is more than I can say for a lot of the above the line folk I encountered during my time in that industry.

I love his Up series. I'm sure they'll try to carry on without him, at least for a 70 Up, I would imagine.

posted by droplet at 7:03 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

posted by acb at 7:11 AM on January 9

doctornemo—I did a WorldCat search and found 579 libraries (mostly in the US) that carry at least one episode on dvd.
If you want, memail me and I can tell you if any libraries in your area have it.
posted by bookmammal at 7:23 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

JUST watched the forgettable spy/action movie "Unlocked" and had the pleasure of informing my husband of what the director would actually be remembered for, despite the James Bond movie and "Coal Miner's Daughter."
posted by Peach at 7:50 AM on January 9

I'd like to catch up to the Up series but they're not available at all on streaming and it's $180 for the disks.

In the very early days of Netflix, when it was mostly DVD rental with a small library of streaming video, I came across the 7 Up series. I don't recall how many there were but they were in their 30s I think. It was one of the only things worth streaming as most of the other items were garbage movies from at least 10 years ago and basically stuff no one wanted to bother with, but I went ahead and paid the extra $1 a month for the streaming service and watched the 7 Up series, and also An American Family, which I also loved.
posted by waving at 9:02 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

posted by LobsterMitten at 2:53 PM on January 9

BritBox is a streaming service in the US and has all the years up to 56, which was the final one. They were born in 1957 so they were only going to reach 64 this year.

I first encountered the series when I was 28, and Film Forum in NYC showed each episode in its entirety up to age 28 in one afternoon's viewing. As someone said above, it was something like a religious experience for me in the way it changed how I thought about life. And that was only at 28!

I also feel sorry for the people involved who found it intrusive (I'm guessing that's most of them tbh), and Apted was a bit patronizing on occasion I thought.

posted by maggiemaggie at 3:19 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

posted by detachd at 4:00 PM on January 9

posted by Sing Fool Sing at 11:29 PM on January 9

Thank you for this post. It's become a bit of running theme for me that I only learn about things and people when they die and someone posts the obit to mefi. But it's been this way for 15 years now, so I guess I'm used to the feeling.

I had heard of this project but never actually sat down and watched any. I found a playlist on youtube and after watching a couple of them I got to thinking about my parents growing up just slightly younger than these people, and then on to my own childhood.

I am lucky that I was inspired by a book I'd read when I was 11 and actually wrote a diary for three months or so, and repeated this every few years, and ever since I've kept various notes and diaries on my computer. I pulled it from the shelf for the first time in years today. It really is a remarkable thing, travelling through time like that, even more so when it's yourself.

It strikes me that not only does it make you face uncomfortable aspects of yourself (I'd never have agreed to share it publicly like the subjects of the documentary did, I understand why some of them dropped out) but that the more important thing is what it tells you about the society and times in which you live, and how that affects your opinions, etc.

I could say more but I'd just be rambling. It's enormous food for thought, that much is for sure. How the hell we didn't cover this work in the documentary film module I took at university is beyond me, this is perhaps the most powerful use of the medium I can imagine. Truly amazing work, and a sad loss.

posted by Acey at 10:02 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


I'm very glad the Up series exists. I'm not entirely sure it demonstrates quite what the creators intended or that it was always ethical. (As a young adult from a working class US background watching it for the first time years ago, I was mostly amazed by all the resources and opportunities the poor kids had. And how awesome their playgrounds were. Which is ignoring huge and important class distinctions in the England, but was my genuine response on first viewing.) But, for its faults, it has always been interesting and well crafted.

I still haven't gotten around to figuring out how to watch the more recent one. I should change that. But, I'm also curious if there's some deep philosophical reason they've made international distribution such a pain.
posted by eotvos at 11:50 AM on January 10

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