MOVIE REVIEW: 63 Up

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What a gorgeous thing Michael Apted has made.

Quick recap for those who have never heard of the ‘Up’ series (I’ve always called it ‘Seven Up’ but apparently I’ve been wrong). The Up series started as a one-off documentary, filmed in 1964, interviewing 14 British children from a range of backgrounds at the age of seven.

The central premise of the show is based on the quote, attributed to the Jesuits: “Give me a child until he is seven and I’ll will show you the man”. In other words – are we all essentially unchangeable, are our core selves formed by the time we are seven? How much does your background and what you are born into shape who you are as an adult?

Michael Apted was a researcher on that first show, and he decided to turn it into a series that revisits the children every seven years, to take stock of their lives and continue to explore whether the ‘seven’ theory stands up. And so came ’14 up’, ‘21 Up’, ‘28 Up’, and so on.

What started as an exploration of class in Britain has turned into a singular project and a unique portrait of humanity, and the ’63 Up’ chapter feels like the most poignant one so far. The children we’ve known at seven are now in the autumn of their lives; they’ve softened, and become more reflective. Revisiting these people, who viewers have literally grown up with, makes for uniquely emotional viewing every seven years. I must have been watching these shows since my teens, and as it happens the show installments have coincided with my own seven year milestones – though at 35 years I am watching ‘63 Up’, so I’m five life episodes behind. Which makes it difficult not to compare myself with the characters you know so well, and what they were doing at my age.

Over the years the series has grown and developed in ways that you suspect the filmmakers did not foresee, and it becomes more and more meta with every chapter. In a way these people have been living in a Truman Show-type situation in that their personal lives are our entertainment, and naturally the participants all react differently to that. Some choose to drop out of the show for some installments – though all but one come back – and many talk about what a painful experience the program is for them.

Apted is not a perfect interviewer and that is part of the charm of the series. There is a real love between him and the participants (apart from John who apparently refuses to speak to him), despite some of his harsh comments and ill advised questions over the years. They sometimes push back. Watching Jackie tell him off about his ignorant and sexist questions all the way back from ’21 Up’ is very gratifying indeed. The participant’s relationship to Apted has grown over the years, as well as their relationship to the show. It’s clear that the very fact they are on the show has in some ways shaped their lives, at very least in their knowledge that their life decisions will be made public.

Of course distilling seven years of someone life into 15 or 20 minutes is never going to give you a nuanced insight, and I spent a lot of time during ’63 Up’ wondering what might have fallen between the cracks. But still, I feel like I know the characters. I’ve loved watching Tony progress through life and was shocked when he admitted to infidelity on ’42 Up’. I’ve spent years shaking my head at John, enjoyed seeing Andrew become more humble with age, was delighted that Sue found love after her years as a solo parent, and have been amazed at Jackie’s strength. More than anything though, I have been worried about Neil. I think everyone has been worried about Neil, judging by the fact that he was the last segment of the show. I even felt real and totally irrational anger at Suzy, who has always been very dismissive about the show and who very annoyingly opted out of ’63 Up’.

More than a commentary on class which is set out to be, the series really just demonstrates so plainly what is important in life. And overwhelmingly, without exception, that is relationships. Health, career, money, opportunities, moving overseas, these are all factors that impact the lives of our beloved Uppers, but ultimately the only things that really really matters, that makes them cry, that truly marks the passing of time, are relationships. People, goddamit. Seinfeld was right, they’re the worst. But they’re also kind of the best; the best that we’ve got at least.

Although the Uppers are drawn from a relatively narrow pool, I would bet that you could make this show with people from anywhere in the world and come to the same conclusion. Considering that in the scheme of the world they haven’t had particularly difficult lives – they were raised in peacetime, they are almost all upwardly mobile – the show is still incredibly sad for reasons that are difficult to pin down. It has something to do with the depiction of the passing of time, with the sense of our own mortality that we see reflected on screen. In ’63 Up’ there’s a feeling that their best days are behind them, and there is a lot of talk of death. The interview scenes with Nick, who is visibly reeling from a recent cancer diagnosis, are unbelievably affecting. It’s pure raw human emotion, and it’s simply stunning television.

People have speculated that this will be the final Up, mostly because Apted himself is not getting any younger. This fantastic article in the Times gives us a peek behind the curtain. Time will tell what happens next, but it’s certain that what he has created so far is one of the most beautiful works of documentary in history.

In Defense of Drinking

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My name is Jennifer Perkin and I am a drinker. I have been on and off for about 15 years now, since I first moved to England and learned how to drink pints of beer. This is not about my regret, my plans to give up drinking, how much better I felt when I stopped drinking, or an apology. This is my love letter to alcohol.

MUSIC REVIEW: GIRL BAND AT ELSEWHERE, 09/10/19

As I watch four young well-dressed men make harrowing noises on a darkened stage with a velvet curtained background, Jameson in hand, I’m wondering what the fuck is wrong with me. This. This evil noise that Girl Band tap into, the metallic clash of the guitars, the headachy drums, the anguished screaming vocals. If I’m really honest with myself, being in a room where people are making this kind of sick music is my favourite thing about being alive. It’s fucked up that of all the things that you can experience in this world, this is the one for me.

Snapshots of Brooklyn: Month Three

 

 

Woaaah so this is a week or two late if the goal is to check in every month, and really reflects how loco things have gotten. Everyone knows how big and busy NYC is but guys, it’s really big and busy! Traveling about an hour to get anywhere every time I left my house seemed sort of cute at the very beginning and it’s really, really, not so much right now.

I envisioned days off (ha!) would involve trips to Queens to eat interesting food, taking the ferry, seeing art exhibitions, getting to know Manhattan, going to the movies during the day, wandering around aimlessly for hours and finding new favourite corners of the city. No, that has not happened. I have mainly glimpsed the city through the corner of my eye, through sweaty disheveled hair as I rush through the city trying to find the right subway entrance, often while lugging a heavy bag of mezcal. Because of the nature of my jobs I rarely have a full day off, and when I do have windows of time I am generally buying the groceries, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, trying to keep in touch with friends and family overseas, and keeping up with errands. I said this to a friend lately and he said, “but isn’t that just being an adult?”, and he does have a good point. How do people do this AND have a child or dog?? Or even just lots of plants? I have like four and they are always living on the edge of death.

BOOK REVIEW: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine (+ Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon)

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It’s funny, I happened to read Viv Albertine of The Slits’ book (released 2014) right after I read Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth’s book, Girl in a Band (released 2015). Purely coincidence, but actually they make great comparison pieces if not companion pieces. Both books are about clothes, music and boys.

Kim Gordon is now 65, Viv is 64. Kim was hugely important in the New York no wave scene in the 80s and 90s, Viv of the London punk scene that preceded it in the 70s. There is not a lot of overlap. While Viv was just a teenager when she started running around with the punks who would become the The Clash and Sex Pistols, and her band The Slits had split up by 1982; Sonic Youth formed in 1981 and had a long and influential career until 2011.

TOOL: A PRIMER

Welcome to the primer you never knew you needed for the band called Tool.

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Tool is the most famous band you’ve never heard of, or perhaps you’ve heard of but you can’t name a single song of. Tool are just days away from releasing their first album in 13 years. This primer is intended to be your cheat sheet, a beginner’s guide, a sketch of a roadmap so you won’t embarrass yourself around the proverbial water cooler.

Snapshots of Brooklyn: Month 2

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People like to say they do or don’t like cities, or that they’re city folk or non-city folk, which kind of suggests that cities are all the same. That they are passive. People also like to say, ‘a place is what you make of it’ which, while I get the sentiment, I don’t totally agree with.

Of course you can make the best or worst of a situation or a location depending on your attitude. But I also think a city is kind of like a person, with character traits and personality quirks that either gel with you or not. You can have a gut feeling about a city, good or bad, and you can fall in love with a city the way you do with a person. I can anyway. Sometime it’s quick, sometimes it’s gradual. Sometimes your relationship with a city can completely change. Just like with people.

Movie Review: Wild Rose, and the ‘unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors’.

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In many ways this movie is like so many others, but in other ways it is like no other. Or, as a pithier writer would say, and in fact did say, on the Roger Ebert site review: “Wild Rose may sound like a familiar tune, but you’ve never heard it performed quite like this”.

In short, Wild Rose is the story of a young Glaswegian singer with an intense love of – and talent for – American country music. She wants to go to Nashville and become a star with every fibre of her being, but she keeps getting in her own way. She is recently out of prison, has two young children who barely know her, a put-upon mother (Julie Walters) who is running out of patience, and shows no signs of growing up any time soon.

FILM REVIEW: Midsommar, and the horror of the domestic

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Hereditary felt like a revelation when it came out last year partly because it was a real movie, with real actors, and real depth and complexity, which happened to be a horror film. As a massive fan of the horror genre, I can tell you that films like that don’t come along all that often. Other films I can think of in that category in recent memory are Let the Right One In, Mandy, The Witch and Get Out. All of which you should watch immediately if you haven’t already. Hereditary was also something of a crossover hit and was talked about and seen by way more people than a horror film usually would be, probably because of the presence of – and incredible performance by – Toni Collette.

The thing about Hereditary is that the most horrifying parts of the film have nothing to do with the supernatural. In a way it almost feels like two movies. The most visceral and memorable moments of the film are rooted in things that are very much of this earth: grief, trauma, blame, guilt, mental illness. Themes that are familiar and awful parts of the human experience. Filmmaker Ari Aster has an incredible gift for conveying the emotion of sheer sickening dread that I’ve rarely seen done so well. Maybe the only other film I can think of that gave me that feeling of a full-body blow is David Fincher’s Se7en from back in 1995. Or the Tim Roth’s film The War Zone, and some films by Lars Von Trier. For me, the satanic and creepy elements of Hereditary even felt a little weak in comparison.