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'42 Up'

Movie Review: Seven years later, latest piece of documentary, '42 Up,' still fascinates

Friday, June 30, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In a movie opening soon called "The Kid," Bruce Willis plays a successful image consultant whose life is turned upside down when he magically meets himself as an 8-year-old child. The kid, not happy with the 40-year-old he becomes, helps the older man remember his dreams as a child.

    '42 UP'

RATING: PG in nature

DIRECTOR: Michael Apted



In a way, "42 Up" does the same thing -- but with real people who encounter themselves as 7-year-olds on film. The longest-running documentary ever made (and it's not over yet), "42 Up" provides an update on 14 children first introduced as 7-year-olds in a British television documentary. Director Michael Apted has revisited them every seven years, with updates at 14, 21, 28, 35 and, now, 42.

Unlike the members of our Class of 2000, who were tracked annually for 12 years and came from a single school district, this batch represented a cross-section of England. Children of privilege were mixed in with youngsters living in a children's home, including one biracial boy whose illegitimacy set him apart in the '60s. Even now, one man still feels the sting of class distinctions; he has a nicely renovated house and bills that go with it.

"42 Up," opening today at the Harris Theater, is as ambitious as it is fascinating. At this point in their lives, the subjects are largely settled down -- married for the first or second time, with children, adjusting to illness or the loss of their parents (one man visits his mother's grave, where her stone reads "Our Darling Mum").

In a way, watching "42 Up" is like being a legitimate voyeur, which perhaps explains why a couple of the originals declined to participate. One goes so far as to label it "a little bitter poison." Another, who perhaps knows the power of the camera, edits science documentaries for British television but won't take part in this one.

We have a front-row seat as cab driver Tony confesses to "regretful behavior," his euphemism for infidelity. Or Symon explains that he's named his son from a second marriage after the father who never married his mother. Or sweet, sensitive Bruce, a teacher at a Catholic girls' school who spent time in Bangladesh, finds love late in life.

Virtually all of the 42-year-olds (who actually would be closer to 44, since this documentary was released in their native country in 1998) are likable. It's impossible not to admire their spirit and bravery as they open their lives, as if they belonged to the public, too.

Imagine being reminded of silly or short-sighted things you said eons ago. Imagine the world watching as your waist thickens or your hair thins or you divorce. It can't be easy.

In that very first installment, the children were identified as providing "a glimpse of Britain's future," and that they have. That Jesuit theory, "Give me the child until he is 7, and I will show you the man" has proven to be both prophetic and not. Women who, as girls, never wanted children or expected to hand them over to nannies, turned into happy stay-at-home mothers.

Paul was living in a children's home in London when the audience first met him. He seemed like a worrier, an unhappy and guarded child. His parents divorced and he settled with his father and stepmother in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. As an adult he is now married and the father of two but he acknowledges that he has never shaken a lack of confidence.

As a 7-year-old literally skipping down the sidewalk, Neil demonstrates none of the troubles -- homelessness, a slippery grasp on reality -- that will later haunt him. The first signs surface when, as a 14-year-old, he confesses to an inability to relax. He eventually rebounds and, in a nod to the bond that exists among the group, bunks with Bruce for a while.

It's unnecessary to have seen any of the previous five installments to enjoy this one. The 59-year-old Apted, exercising a different set of muscles than in directing the James Bond adventure "The World Is Not Enough," generously uses clips to provide snapshots from the past.

At 139 minutes, "42 Up" starts to drag a bit and some of the individual entries might have been trimmed. But it's a riveting ride with emotions that cut across class and country lines, and I can't wait for the next installment.

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