“63 Up” and the Child in All of Us

The series, nearing retirement age itself, prompts questions about how much time is left for its subjects, for its director, for all of us, and reminds us that we cannot know.

By Sarah Larsen | The New Yorker

The Jesuit maxim “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”—portentous, mysterious, mildly weird—is well known to fans of Michael Apted’s “Up” series of documentaries, which has followed the lives of a collection of British people since 1964. As a young researcher at Granada Television, in Manchester, a year out of university, Apted helped choose the children who became the subjects of the first film, “Seven Up!”; every seven years since, he’s given us the gift of an update. In “63 Up,” which opens in the U.S. this week, we begin to see the end. The subjects’ physical changes startle and fascinate us; watching aging in these films is like scanning the progressive class-year groups at a high-school reunion. At sixty-three, our friends aren’t elderly but are just beginning to look like senior citizens; they’re talking about retirement, grandchildren, how their lives have gone. But everyone’s personality—Apted’s included—is exactly the same. As each portrait begins, anticipation sets in as we await new details about an ordinary life.

The “Up” series is nearly spellbinding in its sense of accumulated meaning—a feeling that’s enhanced by its form. Over the years, Apted and his longtime editor, Kim Horton, have incorporated several clips again and again, and seeing and hearing them strengthens the films’ incantatory quality. Many lines from “Seven Up!” have become as familiar as song lyrics: “I wanna be a jockey when I grow up, yeah, I wanna be a jockey when I grow up!”; “I read the Financial Times”; “My heart’s desire is to see my daddy”; “I’m going to work at Woolworth’s”; “Stop that at once!”; and so on. The backbeat could come from the Monotones’ “What Would I Do,” to which our young innocents dance together at a party, balloons popping violently as the classes mingle. At this point, “Seven Up!,” black-and-white and bursting with energy, feels like a sacred artifact, beautiful and odd in detail, to which we return again and again to scrutinize against the passing of time. “63 Up” is the ninth in the series; Apted, who has also directed other acclaimed films, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Nell,” is seventy-eight. The question of how much time the series has left quietly permeates what could be the final entry.

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New Shane MacGowan film ain’t no fairytale

Crock of Gold, Julien Temple’s new film about Shane MacGowan, is a funny, poignant, sad, and hair-raising portrait of the Tipperary lad who became a punk poet, provocateur, and prodigious drinker

Brave is the soul who attempts to make a full-blown documentary film about Shane MacGowan, but we are talking about director Julien Temple here, a man who has form when it comes to corralling the lives of some of music’s more difficult anti-heroes.

Temple’s films on The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Dr. Feelgood are among the best rock docs (a description he hates) ever made, while his superb movies on Glastonbury and the mind-expanding London: The Modern Babylon proved he has always had a keen eye for context and history as well as the scrapes and scraps of rock `n’ roll. Continue reading

Film Review – Voice Of The Eagle: The Enigma Of Robbie Basho

Danny Riley reviews a new documentary about the American guitarist and mystic, Robbie Basho

Forget Gram Parsons and Gene Clark – Robbie Basho is the true voice of Cosmic Americana.

It is puzzling why the why the legacy of this unparalleled innovator of the acoustic guitar has fared so poorly in comparison to his label boss – the more popular and fashionable John Fahey. Whilst Fahey continues to project an inscrutably cool, sardonic air through his steel-string subversions of American folk-blues, Basho comes to us all open-hearted joy and sincere, religious conviction. I’d argue it is our culture’s general unease with all of these latter qualities that has acted to the detriment of the reach of his fandom. He was a guitarist of unparalleled innovation who alchemically combined elements of Indian, East Asian, British and various other folk musics to create near-symphonic odes to the American West and the human soul. In its valiant attempt and ultimate failure to get right to the heart of this baffling and beguiling musician, Liam Barker’s documentary Voice Of The Eagle: The Enigma Of Robbie Basho will do a lot to redress this critical imbalance.

Formed mainly from the video testimonials of the few people that knew Basho at all – his adopted family, a smattering of fellow musicians, the students he taught guitar and his religious associates – the film reveals details of his life and lifestyle unknown to the vast proportion of his followers. Perhaps tellingly it is the acquaintances he met through religious avenues, namely the members of the California sect Sufi Reoriented, that feature most prominently, illustrating in itself Basho’s deep and abiding commitment to spiritual enquiry. Conversely, Basho’s status as an outlier guitarist is made self-evident in the interviews with his contemporary musicians. There are some rather questionable comments from Pete Townshend – American Primitive enthusiast and also a follower of Basho’s spiritual leader Meher Baba (“I’m very influenced by Basho’s playing, you can hear it in my work”), whilst countercultural icon Country Joe MacDonald seem barely able to remember anything about his meetings with Basho. It seems that temporal distance was required for his genius to be truly appreciated, as is seen in the words of more recent musicians – Glenn Jones comes off as a veritable Basho scholar, whilst Steffen Basho-Junghans swears by some form of metaphysical connection with the late guitarist.

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Michael Moore: How Do We Want To Live After This Pandemic?

Michael Moore, the documentary superstar whose new project “Planet of the Humans” is out now, hopes America will emerge from the pandemic with a determination to end inequality in this country.

The Crown: ‘Royal Family’ documentary that the Queen quietly banned

 

For the 27 million people who watched the Queen act alongside James Bond in the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony, or the six million people who watch her Christmas speech every year – it might come as a surprise that the Queen has kept one of her most notable TV appearances under lock and key for nearly 40 years.

Viewers of episode 4, season 3 of The Crown, will see how a documentary made in 1969 about the British royal family was withdrawn from broadcast by Her Majesty after only three public viewings, following of widespread criticism.

The Netflix drama follows the Queen, played by Olivia Colman, and her close family as they organise scripts and film scenes over the course of a year of their lives, before eventually watching it air — and dealing with the ensuing fallout. But did it really happen?

Viewers may be surprised to learn that the 110-minute film, titled Royal Family, was indeed filmed and subsequently taken off air by the Queen. In 2019, it continues to fall under the crown’s copyright, meaning it hasn’t been shown in public since 1972.

How did the film come about?

Towards the end of the “swinging sixties” the royal family felt increasingly out of touch with the new liberal mood of the country. Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge appeared on American television in 1964, telling viewers: “The English are getting bored with their monarchy.” Continue reading