Jesuit maxim: "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man." That's the inspiration for the 7 Up documentary series, which has been interviewing the same group of British subjects at seven year intervals since 1964, when they were each seven years old. In the first film, they are seen in sharp black and white, bouncing off the walls and full of quips like pre-school Beatles. At age 21, we see them in the gauzy color of 70s film stock. They are faux-rebellious chain-smokers, reflective and cool-headed, with all the time in the world to spare. At 28, they are still young, but they've made choices that can't be un-made. They are like adults-in-training. At 42, they are heartbreaking. Youth has quietly slipped away. Spouses have come and gone, and the answers they give to the interview questions are things like..."We both knew it wasn't going any further..."
Now at 49, old age is rapidly approaching, but they are still the same people. The ones who have always seemed buoyant are still that way. Tony, [pictured above] the poor Eastend kid who was hustling as a taxi driver at 28 now owns his own taxi service. He has kids and grandkids and seems bemused at the minor celebrity bestowed on him by the 7 Up series. Jackie, who in her twenties mocked the women she saw pushing baby carriages down the street, now seems lonely and regretful. Simon, a black orphan whose white mother wanted nothing to do with him, is now compelled to open his home to the most hopeless foster children. "One child had two knives in his hands," he tells us.
Cinematical recently spoke with director Michael Apted, who began his involvement with the series as a young researcher on 7 Up and now keeps the project alive. Although he's too mannered and too British to admit it, Apted seems to have internalized what many critics have already noted: that 7 Up may be the most important documentary project of all time.