When I was in my 20s I saw a movie that really settled itself into my psyche – 35-Up. It was a documentary which had been compiled over a period of 21 years, starting by interviewing 7-year old British children at a set of schools from different classes, i.e. socioeconomic backgrounds, about their future and dreams. The film maker, Michael Apted, then reconnected with these children at 14, again at 21 and 35. Originally it was just going to be a study of 7-year olds from a cross-section of Britain, inspired the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” But one of the researchers, Michael Apted, continued it into a series. Documentaries were made at each stage: Seven Up, 7 Plus Seven, 14 up, 21 Up, 35 Up, and so on.
I found the movie incredibly compelling and this intimate glimpse at childhood self-definition, dreams and perspectives which developed and morphed as life, social expectations, and circumstance influenced their growth. At each stage, the “kids” response to the documentaries themselves became fascinating too. Some seemed to pop in and out of the series, but the story line continued. As the years, then decades started to pile up, it evolved as a fascinating view of a person’s life with more depth, complexity and nuance that you would expect given the plethora of reality shows that claim to be providing a view into someone’s life these days.
This morning I got thinking how interesting it would have been, would be, to have something like this for the microcosm of kids that I grew up with. Our small school had a socio-economic and cultural range which I thought was interesting then, and still do today. We had old-Canadian families from Native, Acadian and Loyalist backgrounds. We had new Canadians including a sizeable contingent of ex-Pat Americans who may or may not have been draft-dodgers. We had English and French. We had a contingency of back-to-the-landers, a big artists community, and teachers, doctors and other professionals working in nearby Saint John. And of course some of these groups overlapped, and with the size of the village they certainly intersected.
But the group I’d be most interested in seeing one of these Up documentaries about most, would of course be the group I was most embedded in – the merged back-to-the-landers/artists/teachers community. Our childhoods were a-typical when compared to the majority of people around us, even to each other, but we just assumed what we lived was normal. (Or at least I did.)
Since I left New Brunswick full-time when I was 11, and the months I was home were spent mostly on the island, I lost touch with most of the kids I grew up around. And the years between have pulled those of us that were closer just as far apart. I’ve run into some of them over the last 10 years randomly on the street, at business conferences and at funerals, and it has been fascinating to put new faces to old history.
But how cool would it be, at 48, to get that quick, edited, documentary style update on the people who had such a strong impact on your childhood and on your developing social skills – your childhood peers. The kids you learned from, shared with and adventured with. The ones you looked up to, the ones you wanted to know better and the ones who were your closest allies at some of the oddest times of your life. To see inside the lives of those people who were closest and living similar but still very different lives and the choices and direction those lives and worlds brought them to.
Perhaps we are the last generation to need/want this kind of curated insight. Since from this point forward much of this already be documented in outrageous detail on the internet and social networks. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to get that opportunity.
Note: As I was doing a little research on this, I found out that 56-Up was released in North America, 1 day after my 48th birthday – January 4, 2013. I didn’t realize until just now that my life is 7-years behind the people in the movie. Hunh.