I mentioned a while back that I was going to review the best documentary film I’ve ever seen. The time is now. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Netflix. For the first time, I have a huge library of films available to me, movies that I wouldn’t get to see otherwise (since most good films don’t come to the theaters, and many don’t make it to video). In particular, I’ve gotten to see some fantastic documentary features through Netflix: Capturing the Friedmans, Spellbound, Grey Gardens, Word Wars, Grizzly Man, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Born Into Brothels, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
At the top of my Netflix queue is “49 Up,” the seventh installment of the “Up” series, which Roger Ebert says is on his “list of the ten greatest films of all time.” I agree. It’s to be released on DVD next week, and my wife and I cannot wait to watch it. I can’t do a better job of describing the series than this:
49 UP is the seventh film in a series of landmark documentaries that began 42 years ago when UK-based Granada’s WORLD IN ACTION team, inspired by the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” interviewed a diverse group of seven-year-old children from all over England, asking them about their lives and their dreams for the future. Michael Apted, a researcher for the original film, has returned to interview the “children” every seven years since, at ages 14, 21, 28, 35, 42 and now again at age 49.
In this latest chapter, more life-changing decisions are revealed, more shocking announcements made, and more of the original group take part than ever before, speaking out on a variety of subjects including love, marriage, career, class and prejudice.
Before last winter, I had never heard of the documentary series. One day last winter, I stumbled upon a review of the first film, “Seven Up!” Intrigued, I had Netflix send it.
My wife and I enjoyed it, and watched the other installments. We were absolutely mesmerized. It’s just a groundbreaking idea, executed perfectly by Apted, who has become quite the feature director himself (including a James Bond movie). I can’t reveal too much of the films without ruining the experience for you, but if you have a chance to watch the series, don’t hesitate. You’ll be astounded at how much you look forward to seeing what each of these children have become over the next seven year period. It’s spell-binding.
Once 49 Up is released on DVD and we watch it (here’s Ebert’s glowing review), I’ll report back. I’m expecting great things, though. The Up Series is, by far, the greatest documentary film I’ve ever seen, and one of the best movies I’ve had the pleasure to watch, period.