Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Thoughts on the 7 Up Series
I was watching the introduction to Michael Apted's 56 Up a few days ago and in a clip from 7 Up, the first documentary in the ITV series, one of the seven year olds was describing what had happened to him. I don't remember the exact words but he said something like "And then everything flew up in the air and landed on top of me".
What a wonderful description and it speaks to us as I'm sure we've all gone through similar periods in our lives. This is, I think, what is so special about this series. It gives us a snapshot into someone else's life every seven years. I've been fascinated by the series and what the participants have shared with us, the viewing audience, for nearly fifty years. We've seen them grow, mature and change and, in this, they reflect us all.
56 Up is in some ways the most interesting one of the series so far because several of the participants talk about the effect the program itself has had on them and their lives. It never occurred to me that we, the viewers, would expect to have shared every aspect of their lives, rather that we are just being given a glimpse into where they are at this point. Inevitably it must include some background but, equally, there would be much we are not told. In other words, I don't feel I know them any more than I know any other passing acquaintance met up with infrequently.
As well we are dealing with a filmed documentary and this inevitably involves editing and a "story" so, for example, when we see location shots it's obvious that a camera man has not followed someone around for a week and then given us the raw footage. For a start that would involve us sitting watching a documentary lasting a week. These are samples - and inevitably they are the more interesting parts of that time. While I'm sure watching someone brushing their teeth could be riveting with the right creative editing that's not of much interest in a documentary of this sort.
So it was a great surprise to me to find out that apparently this is not how many others view the participants or the series. Because of the honesty of their answers some viewers feel a very personal attachment to particular participants. They write to them, email them, approach them in the street, project their feelings onto them and at times, instead of being appreciative of their honesty, they criticise them, sometimes very harshly. In 56 Up several of them talk about this and it is very illuminating as to how they feel about it and how they have and are dealing with it.
For what it is I think the 7 Up series has done a remarkable job in providing an insight to British society over a lengthy time. It has flaws - the gender and ethnic imbalance among others - but generally it shows what can be done by a good documentary maker whose aim is not sensationalism (of the sort we see too often in so-called reality television) but to inform. I hope we will get to see another in this series.