Movie Time: 63 Up

I am watching this movie as my first look at director Michael Apted’s “Up” series. I had been aware of it ever since Siskel & Ebert, in 1978, heaped praise on the “21 Up” segment of the series. So I had hoped to catch up on the now nine installments, but time and other issues got in the way. So now I have been offered a screener of “63 Up,” and can come into the movie with fresh eyes.


To fill in: the first part of this series was “7 Up,” a documentary produced as part of a regular documentary series, “World in Action,” on Britain’s independent Granada Television. The original, only 40 minutes long, interviewed 14 seven-year old children, intended to represent a cross section of the classes in British society. This short was directed by Paul Almond, and narrated by Douglas Keay, with Michael Apted researching and choosing the children to be interviewed. Apted became director as he revisited the children in 1970’s “7 Plus Seven,” then followed with other documentaries in the “Up” series. While continuing to make documentaries, Apted also became a feature director in both Hollywood and the UK, having helmed the rock’n’roll picture “Stardust,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” and even a James Bond entry, “The World is Not Enough.”

Back to my watching “63 Up” as my first exposure to the series. I feel that I’ve not missed a thing: as each subject is introduced as they appeared at age 7, and further details of their lives are filled in by clips from later films. When we catch up to each of them at age 63, it’s like we already know them. And there is some cheer to be drawn from the stories, especially of children who grew up to break out of the roles that the British class system assigned to them.

The children

One example was Nick, a farmer’s son in the northern reaches, who was determined to become a scientist. He did, eventually moving to the U.S. to conduct nuclear research. His one mistake, perhaps, was in specializing in fusion energy, which ran into a dead end. Yet he is still teaching, even while fighting throat cancer.

We also caught up to Paul and Symon, two kids living in a group (foster) home in London. Symon, a mixed-race kid who was the series’ only person of color. He grew up, got a job, married, had kids, divorced, married again, and with his second wife, decided to become foster parents themselves. By the time of “56 Up,” Symon and wife Vionette had fostered over 100 children. Paul went to Australia with his father shortly after “7 Up,” and worked in the building trades. He managed to come back to England to catch up with Symon in the later installments. For “63 Up,” Apted arranged for Symon and Vionette to visit Paul in Australia.

This brings up what some critics have called a flaw in the movie series: the occasional manipulating of the subjects’ lives for the sake of the movie. Producers manipulating their subjects for the sake of ratings has become more accepted in the “Reality TV” era. But when this sort of movie making was considered Cinéma vérité, it was expected that the camera should be invisible.

Perhaps this was possible with the first film in the series. As it became apparent that the subjects would be revisited by Apted every seven years, it can’t be helped that he and the crew become a part of their lives. Usually they chat with Apted, asking questions just off-screen, like a family friend. It could be that they hoped to live their best lives, and to have a profound answer to his expected questions.

In interviews about the films, Apted expressed regret that he had only selected four girls in the original 14. One of those women, Suzy, complained vocally in “49 Up” that Apted kept asking the women about marriage and children, even at age 21. For the men, he had moved on to asking the men about their career plans and politics. Suzy reconciled to the idea that she had a sort of duty to the project, but ended up sitting out the “63 Up” installment.

Another mark of the fame the participants had endured was the case of Peter, a middle-class Liverpool native. After Peter criticized Margaret Thatcher in “28 Up,” the Murdoch tabloid press attacked him, and he quit the series. Peter returned for “56 Up,” as he now admitted, to promote his band.

One other participant, Charles, had quit the series, after “21 Up” and became a documentary filmmaker. One of the women subjects, Lynn, was revealed to have died in 2013, the first of the subjects to pass on.

I could go on about the subjects, but I should back up and look at the movie as a whole. It was a new thing back in the 60s to have someone’s life documented at regular intervals. Today, people obsessively chronicle every detail of the lives on phone cameras, but the “Up” series was a new thing. And it had placed all the details of its participants’ lives together in each movie. The children we met in black and white are now approaching retirement in widescreen and high-resolution video. The children were asked about girlfriends and what they want to be when they grew up; now many of them are married, some divorced and remarried, with grandchildren, looking at retirement or facing impending mortality. Despite its pedestrian subject area, this example from the “Up” series takes ordinary lives and makes them compelling.

"63 Up" is now in theatrical release, distributed via BritBox.

Movie Time: Untogether

Jamie Dorman and Jemima Kirke in "Untogether." Source: Freestyle Digital Media
Jamie Dorman and Jemima Kirke in “Untogether.”

Once more, I get to expand my “influencer” tag by reviewing a movie.

“Untogether” marks the directorial debut of writer Emma Forrest. It opens February 8 at the AMC South Barrington 30, following its premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

The romance follows a couple who fall into bed together, then try to decide whether they want to be a couple. Nick (Jamie Dornan [50 Shades of Grey]) admits he broke up with his previous girlfriend only upon meeting Andrea (Jemima Kirke [Girls]), at a party. Despite not wanting not to commit too soon, Andrea takes one of Nick’s shirts home with her, and Nick starts deleting other women from his phone’s contacts.

Continue reading “Movie Time: Untogether”

Eclipse Journal 2: August 21

Sean & Mark McDermott

I probably am not going to be able to hide the fact that I’m writing this story about the August eclipse seven months later, in the midst of a February snow system. Very well. Let me just cop to that fact, and my need to put some interesting “cornerstone copy” on my site that’s a little less than five years old.

Eclipse Day Wakeup

From our campground in DuQuoin to out viewing site in Murphysboro. Just a few seconds less than maximum totality further south and east.
I believe I had set the alarm on my phone for about 7 am on Monday. But I probably didn’t need to bother. I was getting perhaps an hour of sleep at a time. Sean tried to sleep sitting outside in the muggy night, even though he was being bugged by mosquitoes and whatever other insects are out at that place and time. Continue reading “Eclipse Journal 2: August 21”

Eclipse Journal 1: August 20

DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, before the 2017 Eclipse

I have been fussing with the transfer of this blog to WordPress, and with trying to make it current. But let’s start pitching in some new content, first by catching up to a momentous road with my son. This is adapted and expanded from my beer-centric eclipse coverage at


My son Sean and I set out at about 9 am Sunday morning to cross the State of Illinois—the long way—to experience the total solar eclipse of 2017. Our route would involve cutting from one interstate to another along an hour’s worth of rural highway so the Boy could practice his driving. Continue reading “Eclipse Journal 1: August 20”

Time to come clean.

I have spent some years trying to build my own web page from scratch; one that doesn’t look like butt.

But I have finally decided that it will be impossible to keep up with everything I would need to learn just to put a decent piece of web up there.

I’ve now decided that it would be easier to learn to wrangle WordPress. And to see what I can do with a basic WordPress theme, currently “Twenty Seventeen.”

I’m working to put access to my entire World Wide Web wandering on here. So keep an eye open.


A note on Father’s Day

In the face of current social and political situation, and because it was Father’s Day when I started putting this down, I wanted to share some impressions of my dad.

I don’t believe my dad ever said a disparaging word about any individual or group.

If he reads this, he may write back to say, “Oh, I’ve had a lot of cross words with people in my time.”
Continue reading “A note on Father’s Day”

Musical Cheese for October 17, 2012

The Gettysburg Address — Lord Buckley — His Royal Hipness — 1956
Gangnam Style! — Psy — 2012
Ruby Baby — The Drifters — 1956
A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done — Sonny & Cher — All I Ever Need is You — 1972
Live — The Merry-Go-Round — 1966
A Quick One, While He’s Away — The Who — A Quick One —1966
The Laughing Song — George W. Johnson — Brown Wax Cylinder Collection ( — 1899
Cocktails for Two — Spike Jones & His City Slickers — Anthology — 1944
Planet Rock — Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force — 12″ single — 1982
Get Dancin’ — Disco Tex & the Sex-o-Lettes — Get Dancin’ — 1975
Hadacol! (That’s All) — The Treniers — They Rock! They Roll! They Swing! — 1952
Nag Nag Nag Nag — Art Brut — It’s a Bit Complicated — 2007
The Rain, the Park and Other Things — The Cowsills — 20th Century Masters — 1967
Kermit Schafer — Rock Around the Blooper — 1956
Jackie Onassis — Human Sexual Response — Figure 14 — 1980

Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow (single version) — Frank Zappa — Apostrophe(‘) — 1974
Don’t Go Near the Eskimos —Ben Colder — single — 1962
Another Way to Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys – “Quantum of Solace” soundtrack – 2008
Woodstock — Matthew’s Southern Comfort — 1970
Shake It — Ian (Iain) Matthews — 1978
Hey, St. Peter – Flash & the Pan — 1978
Whole Lot-ta Shakin’ Goin’ On — Big Maybelle – 1955 (produced by Quincy Jones)
Nut Rocker — B. Bumble & the Stingers — 1962

Whadya got when ya got no lights?

So two weeks ago we suffered through a major blackout caused by the storm through Downers Grove that was only later defined to be a Tornado. While we only lost a few tree branches, not even the worst storm damage our trees had suffered, parts of the village were ripped up pretty good. The park near us had so many downed branches being pushed to the sidewalk, it looked for a while like you could pretend to be walking along the tops of the trees in a rain forest. Until the leaves started to wither away, revealing the ugly torn branches underneath.
Continue reading “Whadya got when ya got no lights?”

The cultural genome: Google Books reveals traces of fame, censorship and changing languages | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine

What can we learn by sorting every word ever printed? Can we achieve a concordance to the known universe? Not yet, but here’s a good start.
The cultural genome: Google Books reveals traces of fame, censorship and changing languages | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine

Interesting that “The Great War” was discarded in favor of “The World War” and then “World war I” in 1938, when it must have been obvious we were headed into World War II.