'56 Up': Reality gets it right

Before there was Honey Boo Boo, there was Seven Up!, Paul Almond's groundbreaking 1964 film in which 14 British 7-year-olds discussed their lives, hopes and dreams for the future.

In 1971, Almond and Michael Apted had the brilliant idea to catch up with them, a ritual the film makers have continued every seven years since. The latest is 56 Up.

The core participants have allowed viewers to drop in on their lives as they grapple with the cardinal concerns of their generation. 56 Up is modestly upbeat, its subjects candid about their regrets but also satisfied, even if the difference between resignation and contentment isn't always clear.

Many of Almond and Apted's protagonists are now on strong second marriages, their adult children mostly successfully launched. The anxieties about money, health, children, work and death that animate much of 56 Up are banal but profoundly universal.

This is the stuff of reality television and Russian novels — and, every seven years, at least, of a compelling and moving film.

Extras include film critic Roger Ebert's interview with Apted, who also directed Coal Miner's Daughter, and a filmmaker biography and statement.

56 Up retails for $29.95 on DVD.

Also available is The Up Series ($79.95), a seven-disc special edition including all eight films.


These DVDs were also released this week:

Films: The House I Live In; Least Among Saints; Falcon (two-disc set); The Girl; Inescapable; Death by China (documentary); Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings; Why We Laugh: Funny Women; Tower Block; Smart Cookies; An American Girl: Saige Paints the Sky; Tai Chi Hero; Venus and Serena (documentary); The Tower; North and South (1975; British Victorian-era drama miniseries starring Patrick Stewart); Constitution USA With Peter Sagal; 6 Souls.

TV series: Call of the Wildman: Season1; Last Resort: The Complete Series; Legends of the Old West (1994, three-disc collection of History channel documentaries); Frontline: Retirement Gamble; Party of Five: Season Five; The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series.