56 up is the eight movie in what may be the most famous documentary series in film history, directed by Michael Apted. Roger Ebert referred to the series as the most important in history, and he may be right. The series has followed the same group of individuals every seven years since they were seven years old. It's an interesting experiment, but the biggest change in the last seen years is the proliferation of reality series, which has watered down the importance of the series somewhat. In addition, instead of the camera being cinema verité, showing only what happens, over the course of the films, the films themselves have affected the subjects. Also, many of the subjects complain that they have not been fairly represented in the films, and Apted himself has admitted that he has previously shaped the footage fill a narrative that he predicted. In fact, the whole thesis of the series was originally to show that where you are at age seven is where you will be for the rest of your life. The series has actually proven the opposite.
Perhaps the most extreme example of how the movie is being used by the subject, rather than the other way around, is one subject who had not participated since 21, but decided to come back only to whore his band's most recent album. He complained that he left because he did not like the audience reaction to one of his comments at age 21, but now comes back wanting audience reaction. I think the point of the series is lost here, and I probably would have cut his footage out; it clearly does not belong.
Apted also puts himself in the footage far too much. There are too many questions, rather than simply showing the subjects doing what they do, and there are too many scenes that are clearly setups (including arranging for travel so the subjects can meet relatives other subjects that they have not seen). Nonetheless, after watching the first couple of films, almost anyone will be hooked. I do look forward each time a new film is released; it's like getting a home video from distant family that you haven't seen in years.
The films are likely to get more difficult over the upcoming years. Watching people we met at age seven go through the aging process is likely to be painful (having watched my own family members go through it). Also, since the subjects are 6 years older than me, each time a film comes out, they are at the place in time that I will be when the next film comes out, so it's a bit of a crystal ball as well. Yet I still look forward to the next film.
One final note, the audio on the DVD I purchased has pops and clicks all over it. There are no scratches on the disc, and no video problems. If I didn't know better, I'd think the tracks were analog and played back on a machine that was not properly grounded and had constant static throughout. That's a real letdown.