"A young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee in his thirties, at a time when he was living in a run-down cottage in the Cape Towm suburbs with his widowed father—a time, the biographer is convinced, when Coetzee was finding himself as a writer. ...Summertime is an inventive and inspired work of fiction that allows J. M. Coetzee to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye..."
11 February 2013
Being v. Becoming, Pt. 3
Nearly a year ago I posted my excitement upon hearing that Michael Apted was releasing another documentary in the "Up" film series, this time "56 Up". It is playing for one week only here in the ATL, and I got to opening night on Friday. It did not disappoint.
The series comprises footage of about a dozen British men and women at the ages of 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, and now 56. There are interviews with people who are currently lawyers, teachers, a taxi driver, a forklift operator, a scientist, librarians, a local politician, a musician, and homemakers. Some have dropped out over the years. Each film brings the viewer up to date with each subject, showing highlights of the interviews from each of the past films.
We can follow these British members of m-m-m-m-my generation discussing their hopes and dreams, their feelings about love and family, work and play, and sense of self and society at each step along the way. In this most recent film, we catch up with them where they are today, reflecting on the persons they had been—their beliefs about what the future held for them at the time—and the realities of their lives today. There are stories of divorce, estrangement, love, fulfillment, disappointment, happiness, madness. The list goes on. It is the ultimate 'Reality' show.
What struck me as I watched the film: It felt like a reunion—in a good way. I felt like I was reaquainting with old friends, catching up on the stories of their lives, as well as contemplating my own life's journey.
It's an unparalleled filmic document. It shows us what film can be, even though there's really no plot. Not even a car chase. Just interviews and B-roll of about a dozen middle-aged British men and women. [One cool thing about the series is watching the development of film technology over the last 49 years, from grainy black-and-white to shitty color to hi-def.]
It made me ask myself what were my own hopes and dreams when I was 7, 14, 21, ... etc. Who was that callow tad? Where are the insightful interviews of him? Why isn't there B-roll footage of his life?
Oh, I can tell you where I was living and with whom at each of those points in my life. And what I was doing (school-wise, work-wise, play-wise, etc.). But I simply cannot recall what it was like to be in my skin at any of those ages, to think the thoughts I was thinking at those times, to feel what I must have been feeling despite my own predilection for acute self-awareness.
How, I wonder, am I (or any of us, for that matter) the same person I was (we were) at any of those staging points along my (our) life's way. I certainly have the same name as he did. And I bear a remarkable facial and physical resemblance to him, though, admittedly, the proportions have changed. I am not so young-seeming as he, either. Less hair, grayer hair, a bit slacker around the mid-section. Maybe wiser.
I'm reminded of J.M. Coetzee's novel Summertime. Here's the blurb:
Perhaps I'll write a personal essay of my own or even a fictionalized account of myself at each of these random-year points in my own life focusing on what has changed and what has remained the same, what can be known and what only imagined. Maybe even as part of this Being v. Becoming serial post.
P.S. It looks as if all of the films are findable on the YouTubes, in discrete 15 minute segments. Do yourself a favor.