All movies are accidental time capsules. Those movies made today that explore the way we live now eventually become monuments to the way we were and the things we used to do. Robert Aldrich's 1955 Kiss Me Deadly is not only one of the greatest film noirs; it's also the first American film where its lead actor uses an answering machine to check his messages. And how about the size of Jules' cell phone in Pulp Fiction?
No matter how great or small, most movies are littered with strange, unintentionally revealing sequences like those. Michael Apted's 56 Up also offers multiple reminders of the cinema's power to preserve the past, but there's much more to the film than proof of changing times. 56 Up is the eighth iteration of a BBC documentary that has been interviewing the same 14 British men and women every seven years since 1964, when they were all 7 years old. The long view taken of the numerous pasts, presents, and futures still under construction here is never less than quietly mesmerizing.
The 14 sections of 56 Up all unfold in more or less the same way: Each subject discusses his or her plans, regrets, triumphs, or whatever else is on his or her minds while the editors juxtapose their most recent remarks with earlier footage from their younger selves. Now on the cusp of old age, everyone in 56 Up has plenty to say for their lives. Their remarks may frequently fall short of revelation, but the truths they've learned are clearly hard-won. Here's Neil on wasted opportunities: "I am angry so many doors have been closed." Here's Paul on aging: "I don't think you really notice it." Here's Jackie on misery: "For every one good day I have, I can have two bad." Here's Suzy on politics: "They haven't got a clue what they're doing." Here's Simon on 20 years of happy marriage: "Is that all it is?" Here's Suzy on seeing her part in the documentary: "That's all there is to me?"
Although I've known about this series for at least 20 years, this is the first Up film I've seen; there's no doubt that part of my enchantment comes from finally meeting these people. Still, I cannot think of another movie that inspires as much introspection and soul-searching. Shakespearean questions linger long after the film ends. Is there a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will? Or is it not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves? No matter: Hopefully, these people will continue talking about their lives — and we'll get to keep watching them — until subject and moviegoer alike are sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything.
Opening Friday, March 1st
Studio on the Square