I think I’ve seen every episode of the “Up” documentary series by award-winning film director Michael Apted. From “Seven Up” to today’s “63Up,” Apted has revisited a core group of 14 English people, beginning as children at age seven and every seven years since then, from childhood to puberty, through young adulthood, maturity, middle-age and now the age of retirement. “63 Up” will open on Dec. 6 for a short run at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre, followed by a national rollout.
What a remarkable journey it’s been, starting as a one-off TV special inspired by the Jesuit saying, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” to analyze the rigidity of social class in England and document how their lives, feelings and opinions have evolved over the years. The original 20 children (only 14 were followed) were selected to represent a spectrum of socio-economic groups, ostensibly to determine whether advantages or disadvantages follow them throughout their lives.
Are our lives predetermined by the class we are born into and our earliest influences? The films have provided a remarkable window into such questions.
Tony, who wanted to be a jockey, shares that he wasn’t good enough and instead became a taxi driver, which he said early on he would do if being a jockey didn’t work out. Well-settled despite a few bumps along the road, he’s still the feisty, rotund pixie that he was at seven, only now with some health issues; he still believes that the rich get richer, etc. Lynn became a librarian working with special needs children and experienced firsthand how little society cares about the needy. Sadly, she’s no longer with us but the library has been named in her honor. Jackie, burned in a first marriage, is still living through what she calls the world’s longest engagement and is very happy with her relationship.
Symon (the only biracial participant) and Paul, who shared a childhood at a strict boys’ school when left behind by parents, maintained their lifelong friendship and turn out to have fulfilled lives and marriages (and many, many children between them). Nick now has throat cancer; he became a lawyer and is happy in his second marriage but sorry he’s burdening his second wife with having to deal with his illness. And Neil has been through it all, mental illness, homelessness and now a local politician and pastor.
All of them are asked to reflect on whether they think their class advantages or disadvantages influenced their lives – and Apted also raises the question of Brexit. It’s a 2-hour and 24-minute documentary, worth every minute of your time. You don’t need to have seen the earlier films to pick up on their lives; Apted brings the past forward and leads us through today. And not everyone in the film loves him for it.
What an achievement; what food for philosophical and social thought these films provide and this one, close in age as it is to mine, really had an impact on me. I hope it continues through age 70.
For tickets visit https://www.landmarktheatres.com/Booking/nuart-theatre/440121; on Friday, Dec. 6, Michael Apted will appear for a Q&A after the 8 pm screening.
SALVAGE: A COUNTRY MUSICAL
A little farther afield, the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood presents the world premiere of “Salvage,” a play with country music, written by Tim Alderson, a fifth-generation farmer who runs one of the most effective faith-based social organizations in Los Angeles, Seeds of Hope LA, focused on the production, distribution and commitment to food.
I had no idea that lyric and playwriting were in Tim’s wheelhouse, and the songs propel the plot well. The actors bring it home because they’re both good singers and guitar players.
Drinking non-stop, the rough-edged “Preacher” (David Atkinson) is wallowing in self-pity, singing songs like “Rise from the Ruins,” and “I’m So Tired of it All.” Bright, youthful Harley (Christopher Fordinal) is at a turning point in his life as he bursts into the rundown bar where Preacher holds court. He wants to know: Is this the legendary spot where Harley’s music idol Floyd died?
Harley questions Preacher’s gloom, and shares news of his partner’s pregnancy; despite his life’s dream to make it as a singer/songwriter, he accidentally stumbles into this bar on his way to pawn his guitar to support his upcoming family. The musical back-and-forth between them advances the plot about Floyd and the mysterious, now dead Jennifer, who was the love of Preacher’s (and Floyd’s) life.
Destiny (Nina Herzog), Harley’s partner, sets the record straight: Harley’s too talented to give up his guitar and she doesn’t want him to. Song by song, argument by argument the truth – and a surprise twist – unfold, along with some lovely lyrics, singing and harmonizing. If you’re looking for entertainment that is neither cynical nor snarky, this is the play for you.
“Salvage” runs Fridays-Sundays through December 15. Reservations available by calling (323) 960-7712; online at www.Onstage411.com/Salvage. The Lounge Theatre is located at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.