Saturday, February 29, 2020

THE UP SERIES (1964-2019, GREAT BRITAIN)

Given me a child when he is seven and I will give you the man.-Jesuit proverb

The featured players of the Up series
at different life stages

In 1964, Granada television in Britain chose fourteen seven-year-old subjects for a television special about what it was like to be that age. This original film was directed by Paul Diamond and was originally supposed to be a one and off special. The subjects of the film were chosen by a young researcher named Michael Apted, who saw the potential for something really special here. Apted took over as director of the project and filmed the children again at age fourteen in 1970. He then filmed all the subjects in the film every seven years (all that would participate) all the way until 63 Up in 2019.

I had heard about this series over the years, but never watched it. We got the 56 Up! DVD at the library a couple of years ago, but really wanted to see the films from the beginning. In recent weeks, I noticed Britbox had all the episodes and my wife and I decided to plunge in and watch them.

I don't binge watch shows often, but The Up Series is definitely one I'd recommend going that route with. I feel like I just met these seven-year-old kids a couple of weeks ago and watching a show a night, they quickly are all reaching retirement age. It acts like an only slightly less speedy Picture of Dorian Gray with the featured kids.

We see the participants make schooling decisions, marriage decisions, career decisions and family decisions. Through the episodes, the extended family of the participants become players in this drama as well. Other participants keep their family out of it entirely. We also see past shows cleverly edited into each new show to give the viewer perspective.

One of the elements in the choosing of the original subjects is class. You have the prep school boys, seemingly born with silver spoons in their mouth and poorer East End kids that have to struggle for everything. The truth is of course much more complicated than that.

Here are the subjects for the film:

John, Andrew and Charles on the couch
in 14 Up

The Three Prep School Boys on the Couch
John Brisby, one of the upper class kids, was seemingly on the path to being a barrister from age seven. He likes to point out in later episodes that he had to struggle a lot more than what is portrayed in the earlier films.

Andrew Brackfield was one of the funniest of the seven year old kids, going on about he read The Financial Times on a daily basis. He later became a solicitor, but seems to spend a lot of time in his garden as the years go on. He appears to have one of the happier marriages and families in the film.

Charles Furneaux is the third of the Prep School boys. Charles didn't participate in any films after 21 Up, despite later becoming a documentary filmmaker himself!

Jackie, Lynn and Sue on the slide at age seven

The Three Working Class Girls on the Couch
Jackie Bassett is one of the three girls in the film that are usually filmed together. Her life has had her ups and downs with marriages, kids, work and health. She often seems to have a love/hate relationship with director Apted. I find her one of the most interesting subjects in the film.

Lynn Johnson was one of Jackie's friends who definitely had her ups and downs. She married young and had a family early, but kept her marriage together throughout her life. I certainly like the fact that she worked at libraries and a bookmobile for many years. She had many health issues over the years which she talks about in many episodes. She died in 2013 at the age of 57.

Sue Davis is the third of the three girls filmed together in episode one. She had her ups and downs with marriage and divorce over the years. She also had a potential singing career that she points out she was never able to follow through with. In later years, she is seen as being happily engaged to the same man for 21 years!

The Charity Boarding School Classmates
Symon Basterfield was the only participant of mixed race in this film. He worked at various jobs over the years which the viewer gets to experience vicariously (There's Symon on the fork lift again!). He married and had five kids only to divorce. His second wife was a strong presence in 49 Up and 56 Up.

Paul Kliegerman was also one of the funniest of the kids at seven. The clip that they show about his fear of marriage because his wife might serve him greens makes me laugh every time they show it. In actuality, Paul has had the same wife since 21 Up, and we see many of their travels through the outback and raising of their family over the years. One of the most likable participants in the film, we see Paul reunited with his classmate Symon in 49 Up (or was that 42 Up?)

The entire group together at 21 Up

The Academics
Bruce Balden may be the person I identify the most with in the film. Always concerned about social issues and injustice early on, he becomes a teacher in the inner city and in Bangla Desh for awhile. It didn't seem like he would ever get married, but did in 35 Up in a ceremony conducted by fellow Up participant Neil Hughes.

Nick Hitchon started out on a farm and went to boarding school before going to Oxford and eventually becoming a professor specializing in Nuclear Fusion at the University of Wisconsin. Nick's first marriage is documented in 28 Up, but that didn't last and seems happy with his second wife in later episodes. 

I just want to promote me band!
Peter Davies was a Liverpudlian youth who in 21 Up said some negative things about the Thatcher Administration which he got some criticism for and decided not to participate in the series again until 56 Up to promote his folk band!

This is pointless and silly!
Suzy Lusk had a most interesting evolution on the show. She went from being one of the rich kids in the beginning to being from a broken home and deciding the project was "pointless and silly" by the age of 14. At 21, she was an angry chain-smoking young lady who would never want to have kids and was mad at the world. By 28, she married someone who seemed to change her worldview for the better and has appeared to have a happy life (with kids!).

Tony Walker at 7 Up and 56 Up
The breakout stars
Tony Walker-"I want to be a jockey when I grow up. I want to be a jockey when I grow up!" I always quote Tony's seven-year-old aspirations to my wife before we start a new episode. Tony is one of the lower East Side kids who did indeed become a jockey for awhile before becoming a taxi driver among other things. The fast talking Tony seems to be one of those people who can probably get away with a lot just by talking his way out of things. Married at 28, his wife was featured in all the subsequent episodes and they are not afraid to speak openly about the highs and lows of their relationship.

Neil Hughes at 56 Up and 7 Up

Neil Hughes was the Liverpool youth who had aspirations, yet never seemed to find his way. He was often depicted throughout the run of the show as homeless or suffering from a form of mental illness-yet always finding a way to survive. He later became a local councilman and even a preacher (performing the marriage ceremony for Bruce Balden).

I think for the most part the participants haven been shown in a positive light. I mean there aren't any villains in this piece (Maybe Charles, only because he wouldn't participate after 21 Up) and I hope the lives of all of them continue to improve through 63 Up, 70 Up, 77 Up...

Thursday, February 27, 2020

THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH (1989), TRUST (1990)

 Adrienne Shelly and Robert Burke
seek out The Unbelievable Truth


Director Hal Hartley's three decade (so far) career as an indie film director began with his 1989 film The Unbelievable Truth in 1989. It's a story about a mechanic named Josh (Robert Burke) who returns to his hometown after a stretch in prison for a murder he may or may not have committed. He gets involved with Audry (Adrienne Shelly), the daughter of the owner of the garage where he lands a job. It's a nice little film with interesting plot twists and characters and I really have to give credit to any film with a budget of $75,000 (even in 1989 dollars).

Adrienne Shelly and Martin Donovan 
learn to Trust each other

Trust is Hal Hartley's low-budget romance about a pregnant high schooler named Maria that accidentally kills her dad, gets banished by her mother, dumped by her boyfriend, survives an attempted rape in a store...before hooking up with a electronics repairman named Matthew whose main character flaw is that he is too ethical to hold a job. Matthew has parental problems of his own with his oddly controlling father. The characters of Maria and Matthew grew on me after awhile (especially Adrienne Shelly as the girl) and the film has some nice touches of dark humor and some poignancy as well.

Leading lady Adrienne Shelly later became a director in her own right (Waitress), but her promising career was cut short by her tragic death in 2006 at the age of 40.


Adrienne Shelly in Waitress

Monday, February 24, 2020

A QUESTION OF SILENCE (1982), CAROL (2015)

Three women converge of the shop owner
in A Question of Silence

A Question of Silence is a story of three women. One is a seemingly happy, plump middle aged waitress. But is she really happy? She's alone and perhaps she isn't really as contented as she seems. Another is an attractive office assistant. Her boss relies on her to run the office, but seems to have little respect for her ideas. The third is a housewife with a family. The three women don't know each other but find themselves at a dress shop one day. The housewife attempts to steal a garment and is approached by the owner. The three women converge of him and...well, they beat him to death.

The women are in custody and are interviewed by a female criminal psychiatrist named Janine. Janine tries to understand them at first and actually comes to sympathize with them as time goes on.

A feminist parable to be sure. What is the director/writer Gorris trying to say? And should a man watch this with a different eye than a woman? I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone watches A Question of Silence and says, "Wow, that was entertaining!" Of course, it wasn't meant to be.




Carol (Cate Blanchette) meets Therese (Rooney Mara)
in Carol

We recently read the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith for my book club. It is the story of a young lady named Therese who slowly becomes enamored by an older married woman named Carol. It is a book that really delves into Therese's thoughts and somehow makes intricate details and mundane thoughts interesting. I actually liked this book more than some of the women in my book group who thought she relied on this detail too much and neglected getting on with the story.

Having read the book makes the praised film adaptation Carol interesting. I've seen it before, but looking at it right after reading the book makes it seem somehow less than when I first saw it. Granted, film is a different medium and taken as a stand alone without knowing about the book, it is a pretty good study of these two women. It also recreates the time well and Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara are good in the lead roles.

Overall, the story is about a clear love between two women that can not be expressed because of the time and the situation they are in. But the end surprisingly does give them and the reader (or viewer) hope that they can both ultimately be happy.

The Price of Salt
(listed under Highsmith's alias
Claire Morgan)

Friday, February 21, 2020

ECSTASY (1933, CZECHOSLOVOKIA), SAMSON AND DELILAH (1948), BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017)

Hedy Kielser naked and afraid
 in Ecstasy

The Czech film Ecstasy is a somewhat puzzling film to watch. It is about a bride named Eva who is on her honeymoon with her older husband named Emil and suddenly realizes she doesn't love him and leaves him to go back to the comfort of her family. While swimming and chasing a horse before she is able to get her clothes on she meets a builder who eventually becomes her lover. Emil eventually comes back to try to reconcile with Eva and complications ensue.

Ecstasy director Gustav Machaty and his cinematographer definitely have some cinematic skill with their often offbeat camera angles and slow pacing. The film itself often plays like a silent, with minutes between dialogue even though sound had been around for several years when this film was shot! It's not a bad film now that I think about it, but there's really only one reason it's remembered today.

Heddy Lamar: Eva is played by Austrian Hedy Kiesler, who later became famous in America under the name of Heddy Lamar. Her scene when she is running after her horse in the nude was considered quite scandalous at the time, but it did give her some attention which later led to her emigration to the United States and becoming a star for MGM studios in the 40's.

Heddy Lamar using her body 
in Sampson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah was one of the biggest hits MGM and director Cecil B. Demille had during the 1940's.
Heddy Lamar played the seductive temptress Delilah and she did indeed have looks to kill for...or at least get your haircut for. I actually liked this film more than I thought I would (I think I'm just growing soft for old movies). The final destruction of the temple as well as other action scenes (such as Samson kicking ass with the jawbone of an ass) makes for a pretty good spectacle and Lamar's co-star Victor Mature is able as the mighty Samson. We also have on hand a young Angela Lansbury as Delilah's sister and the always wonderful (to me) George Sanders as the Saran.

 
Heddy Lamar using her brain
in Bombshell: The Heddy Lamar Story


The last film of my Heddy Lamar triple feature is the documentary Bombshell: The Heddy Lamar Story. This film shows Heddy's rise from a Czech ingenue to a major Hollywood star, her many marriages and the many peaks and valleys of her career before becoming a recluse later in life. 

One of the noted aspects of this documentary is showing Heddy's...brain. She is credited (or maybe not credited enough) with the development of "frequency hopping"to prevent enemy subs and such for picking up on messages delivered to allies during World War II. She and George Antheil were awarded a patent on this in 1942 and was used as a valuable tool in keeping transmissions secret in subsequent years (and wars.)