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The brilliance of “Seven Up!”

According to Blogger, as of today, I have posted 1300 times. Someone, shut this woman up! No, never, because blogging benefits me in so many unexpected ways. Today, I came home to find an email from my friend and student Liz, a nurse who writes beautifully about her extraordinary childhood as the second of 15 children, and about her adult life as a nurse. She wrote:


By the sound of your blog, it’s time to visit your doctor.  Seven days is long enough, you should be getting better by now.  You may need a steroid inhaler to settle the irritation in your lungs and/or a powerful prescription cough medicine.


My own personal health consultation, through the blog! I will indeed call my doctor tomorrow, thank you Liz. This has gone on, in fact, for nine days, and enough is enough.

I just came home from a movie which I didn’t feel well enough to go to, but when I saw it mentioned in the paper as showing only this once, absolutely could not miss: “49 Up.” And sure enough, it was as powerful a piece of film as I’ve ever seen, just like all the others. For those who don’t know about this brilliant series, filmmaker Michael Apted, in 1964, picked a diverse group of British seven-year old boys and girls and made “Seven Up!”, a documentary showing how very sure of their future lives were the wealthy ones and how very insecure of theirs were the poor ones. He has continued to film them every seven years since; I’ve been watching every 7 years since “21 Up.”


It’s enthralling, moving, sensational, unforgettable – of course, about much more than class expectations – about life itself. We watch these kids grow up. We learn, watching, that we are all more or less beautiful, open and confident at seven, blotchy and incoherent at 14, completely lost and hideous at 21, and, often, found and on solid ground at 28. A surprising number were married with children by then. Others have taken longer, but they’re almost all married now for the first or second time, with children, and, newly, with grandchildren, whom they enjoy just as much as I enjoy mine.
It’s like going to watch a film about old friends; I feel great affection and have huge respect for their courage and openness. Rich or poor, they’re trying to be happy and loved and to take care of their families, like the rest of us. An amazing privilege, to watch the span of their lives go by like that. 


Ah ha! Typical of my math: If they were 7 in 1964, they can’t be 49 in 2012, you idiot! I see looking at the Hot Docs program that this was a weekend-long retrospective of all the films, in advance of the new one, “56 UP,” coming out this December. I didn’t even know I’d missed this one, made in 2005. I’ll be first in line at the next.


“49 Up” ends, as usual, with Neil, the most startling of the group – the most beautiful of all at 7, with a face as innocent as an angel’s; by 21 he’s living in a squat and by 28 he’s homeless, hitching in the rain. It’s clear he has considerable mental problems. By 35, miraculously, he’s on the local town council, and at 42, we can hardly believe our eyes – he’s staying with another of the film’s participants in London and on another local council. But still a bit shaky. 

At 49, he’s back north, again on a local council, living in a nice little council flat with a view of
 luminous green fields and puffs of sheep, with a volunteer job at the Oxfam shop and friends in the church. He bicycles through glens and dells, his face stronger and calmer than it has ever been.

And he tells a story, of watching a butterfly land near him on the grass and open its perfect red wings to dry in the sun. “Perhaps that’s all life is,” he says, “our moment in the sun, to spread our wings.” And the film cuts to him as a seven-year old, running joyfully in the schoolyard with his arms outstretched


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4 Responses to “The brilliance of “Seven Up!””

  1. Sandra says:

    Ms Kaplan, Love reading your blog – thank-you for sharing. Hope you feel better soon. Sandra from Quebec

  2. beth says:

    Sandra de la belle province, thank you so much for your good wishes. I am full of antibiotics and starting to feel better, yes.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This fascinating documentary can be found on Youtube. The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit saying “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngSGIjwwc4U

  4. beth says:

    … and I will give you the man, and also, belatedly, the woman. The filmmaker has explained that he's sorry he focussed much more on boys than girls in the early films and has done his best to rectify that. Thank you very much for this tip. I will look for it on-line.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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