"This is a ridiculous time for me--frankly I'm spread a bit thin right now," admits director Michael Apted as he races against the clock to complete the final sound mixes on "Thunderheart," the last of three films he will have in release over the next two months. "I wish these films could be spread out a bit more--people are gonna get tired of me."
Articulate and friendly, Apted has a relaxed, breezy manner and a dry sense of humor that no doubt came in handy in the making of "35 Up," the first of the trio to open. That film, which opened Friday, is largely dependent on the fact that Apted is a very likable man.
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 23, 1992 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction
(Dennis) Banks, who has a small role in the film, was misidentified (Feb. 9) in the photo provided by 20th Century Fox.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 23, 1992 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
A Feb. 9 article on director Michael Apted and "Incident at Oglala" implied that there was a link between the June 26, 1975, slaying of two FBI agents and the American Indian Movement's takeover at Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973. The incidents were not related.
The fifth installment of a project that's occupied Apted for 28 years, "35 Up" is a series of intensely personal interviews (conducted by Apted, who is off camera), with 14 Britishers who were introduced to the public at the age of 7 in "7 Up," a 1964 television documentary examining the British class system. The show subsequently blossomed into an ongoing chronicle of 14 very different lives. Hired fresh out of college by Granada Television to work as a researcher for the first film (he was 21 at the time), Apted returned seven years later to interview the group at age 14 for "7 Plus 7," which was followed by "21" and "28 Up." Apted's critically acclaimed series recently spawned two spinoffs, "28 Up in America," directed by Phil Joanou, and "28 Up in Russia," which was begun shortly before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Apted is serving as an adviser on both films.
"My most personal work is the 'Up' series--there's more of me in this than in anything I've done because it's all to do with my relationship with these people," says Apted, who left England for America in 1979 and has directed several feature films since moving to Los Angeles ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "Gorillas in the Mist" and last year's "Class Action" are among his credits).
Along with exposing the inequities of the British class system, Apted's ingenious form of time-lapse biography underscores the similarities in these people, whose lives seem to ebb and flow in parallel ways.
"Different things come up in each film and each has a distinct feeling," says Apted, who was born in Aylesbury, England, and studied history and law at Cambridge. " '7 Up' is amazingly cute and charming in both a good and bad sense. '7 Plus 7' is the most tortured film and is a real insight into the adolescent mind. It makes you wonder what happens to people between 7 and 14--outgoing, bright children turn into taciturn, morose teen-agers. At 21 they come out of their shells again and are full of life and the power they felt was in their hands. They were pretty obnoxious at 14 and 21, but as they get older they become nicer. At 28 you sense the pattern of their working life is set, and if they hadn't made it by then, they were going to have problems. With the new film, several of them have lost a parent, and the issue of mortality presents itself for the first time."
Among the surprising things that surface in the series; none of Apted's subjects have any involvement with drugs or crime, none are gay, and with the exception of one participant, all lead lives that are relatively untouched by tragedy.
"When '28 Up' came out someone said how can this film have any validity when it doesn't deal with one of the great social issues of our time, which is drugs," says Apted, who is married and has two grown sons. "But drugs weren't prevalent in England during this period--they simply weren't an issue."
One of the participants, Neil, is a highly intelligent man who had become a homeless derelict by the age of 28. "Neil is a manic depressive with more lows than highs, and mixed up with that is this incredible stress that was imposed on him--or he imposed on himself--as a teen-ager," Apted says. "He had an overwhelming desire to succeed and when he didn't succeed it sent him haywire. Of all the people in the film Neil generates the most interest because his story is the most traumatic and he's phenomenally articulate." (Neil received thousands of letters and several job offers after "28 Up" was released in 1984--but he continues to lead a life of destitution).
Asked what kind of conclusions the series has led him to draw about the British class system, Apted says "it shows it's been a serious obstacle for a lot of these people. The common problem these people face is that the economic roof fell in on most people born in England in the '50s. England's been in a recession for nearly 20 years and even some of the wealthier ones have come up against roadblocks. More than emotional things, financial things have been constricting for this generation."
In discussing the difficulties of making the films (which are shot for very little--"35 Up" cost just $600,000), Apted says one of the hardest things is persuading his subjects to participate. Three of the original 14 have dropped out, and the 11 still on board grumble on camera about the disruptive intrusion of media into their lives.