Neil (left) and Peter square off in 1971.
56 UP (Michael Apted). 144 minutes. Opens Friday (December 21) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. See listing. Rating: NNNN
In 1964, British broadcaster Granada Television began a fascinating experiment in long-form documentary filmmaking. Seven Up! profiled the lives of 14 London-area seven-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Seven years later, the filmmakers looked in on the kids for a follow-up documentary, 7 Plus Seven.
The project - initiated by the Canadian documentarian Paul Almond, and directed since the second instalment by Michael Apted - has gone on ever since, through 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up and now 56 Up.
Writing about the Up documentaries is increasingly difficult. Anything I write would constitute a spoiler, so I'll leave it at this: Apted is doing something utterly unprecedented, creating a portrait not just of his subjects but of the society in which they live, where class distinctions still determine opportunity just as much as they did five decades ago.
And as the project hits its half-century mark, with the "kids" settling into middle age, the signature cross-cutting between then, now and everything in between feels downright Proustian in its emotional depth.
At this point in the epic series, discussing new developments in the lives of the subjects is like talking about the activities of old friends - at least one of whom has been absent for a while.
Sorry. That's kind of a spoiler, too. But trust me, you won't mind.