As a medium, film is something of a paradox. Few other art forms have the immediacy of film—watching ourselves, or versions of ourselves, captured in motion has a mysteriously strong impact on us as a people. We stare transfixed, crowded into dark rooms or on our couches at home alone, lost and dreaming in a way that even live theater sometimes cannot make us do. And yet for all their impact, films—for most of us—are ephemeral, transitory, things; viewed once and left to fade into memory.
Compare that to a living room bookcase filled with well-thumbed novels, or a favorite painting that hangs, day after day, above the fireplace. You might see that painting dozens of times a day, every day, but even the most diehard film lover probably only watches a favorite film a few times each year.
It’s a situation that makes Michael Apted’s ongoing Up series of films such a remarkable achievement of filmmaking. Produced by Granada Television, this is not a series in the Harry Potter sense; although the Up series does follow a group of British children, its scope covers half a century, and its focus is decidedly documentary. Beginning with 1964’s 7 Up—the number refers to the age of the film’s subjects—the director has checked in with the same 14 children every seven years, following their rising and falling stories as they grow into adulthood. The latest installment is (do the math) 56 Up (the others are available on disc and online if you’d like to catch up). The result is a powerful example of the real power of film—something more magical than even that other British series.
It would take too much space to detail it all here, but people who have followed this dozen-plus group over the years will greet them like family. While the project was begun as a way to chart wider changes in society—early in 7 Up, we are reminded that “the union leader and the business executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old”—it is as individuals that viewers have come to know the people who make up this living history. They are cab drivers and professors, counselors and single parents; elated or depressed, they are us, and it’s a wonderful gift to be reminded of our human story every seven years.
Also this week: A couple of classics return to area screens. First up, a screening of The Doors classic 1968 concert at the Hollywood Bowl, remastered and restored from the original camera negatives. In what’s widely hailed as the band’s best filmed performance, the iconoclastic Jim Morrison leads the group through a laundry list of their hit tunes, but the feature also includes a rare interview with the band as they discuss their take on the significance of playing “The Bowl.” It screens at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Over at Cinemark in Hadley, Cary Grant returns to his rightful place—the silver screen, as large as possible—when the theater brings in To Catch a Thief, the mid-1950s romantic thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Grant stars as John Robie, an infamous (but retired) cat burglar enjoying his retirement on the French Riviera when the work of a copycat thief begins to throw suspicion on him again. Determined to clear his name the only way he knows how, he sets out to snare the thief himself.
Along the way, he gets involved with a wealthy beauty (Grace Kelly), her mom, and some French Resistance fighters. It’s all a little ridiculous—lots of black knits, rooftops, and banter—but in that ridiculously suave way that only Grant and Kelly could manage.•
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.