Double feature: This week marks the one-year anniversary of “Make it a Double…Feature,” so it seems fitting to cover two films that give beginnings their due.
Both “To Sir, with Love” and the “Up“ series (starting with “Seven Up!“) acknowledge the explanatory power of origins over subsequent development. Both are essential viewing for those entering arguments on either side of the nature vs. nurture debate. The former, a feature film, and the latter, a longitudinal documentary series, present nuanced evidence relating to the stability of character and the possibility for meaningful (i.e. lasting) change of the self.
That both do so under the same mid-20th century London sky is no accident. The pervasive class-consciousness of their shared setting allows both films to ponder not only determinism of character, but also of socioeconomic circumstance.
Both do their pondering with a fundamental seriousness of purpose that the narrative film leavens with period style and gawky sincerity, and the documentary sharpens with acuity of behind-the-camera observation. Both involve ahead-of-their-time structural devices: where “To Sir, with Love” features a charming proto-music video in its middle, the “Up” Series constitutes a landmark in proto-reality television.
To power through the “Up” series in a single marathon viewing is to jangle your experience of – and refresh your respect for – time. In a matter of hours, you’ll watch an entire cohort of individuals develop before your very eyes with the speed and inexorability of those “just add water”/”magic grow” animal sponge toys.
In their exploration of the “formative years” in the development of intersecting circles of Londoners, both films end up demonstrating that every year in an individual’s life is – or, at least, can be – a formative one.
For a marathon: Both films echo against the narrative circumstances of “The 400 Blows,” in which a series of individually trivial mishaps accrete into a grim, ineluctable fate.
For a lighter take on nature, nurture, and the stickiness of socioeconomic class, check out “Trading Places.”
And after the “Up” series, check out Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” art installation (or, more feasibly, a clip thereof) and judge for yourself which does a better job of heightening your awareness of time’s presence.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “beavela” and “Jason Alley” at Flickr)