When I first heard about Boyhood, I was impressed, yes, with the film’s 12 years of shooting time, though not as much as the average viewer. Two years ago, I interned at Rada Film Group, the production company behind American Promise, a documentary that much like Boyhood, filmed a young boy from the age of six to the age of eighteen. My exposure to the feat of 12 years of filming at Rada frankly blunted my reaction to the immense amount of time and effort invested into Boyhood; While I was intrigued to see a fictional compilation of 12 years of film, the concept wasn’t actually novel to me.
Having said that, Boyhood is the most impressive movie I’ve seen this summer–and I’ve seen some great ones, including Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur. It’s an anthology of one boy’s childhood, a compilation of moments both formative and revelatory–allowing viewer to see the events that shape the characters, as well as the results. The simple chronological structure chosen for the film is perfect–when combined with the filming style, watching Boyhood feels like watching a child grow up and transform before your eyes: it’s child development for the impatient. Even with the inclusion of recognizable actors such as Ethan Hawke (playing the boy’s dad) and Patricia Arquette (the boy’s mom), the film feels real; a mixed bag of momentous occasions and the more mundane; silences, gregariousness, and one-word responses; happiness, awkwardness, and fear.
Besides allowing you to experience the growth of one boy into a sensitive and artistic young man, Boyhood also invites you to reminisce about your own past, through the evolution of fashion and music unfolding on the screen. The long hair sweeping over the eyes, ever so carefully brushed to the side and flipped upwards reminded me of the boys in middle school; Sheryl Crowe’s “Soak Up the Sun” took me back all the way to elementary. Boyhood, thus, not only gives you the thrilling experience of watching one boy’s physical and emotional evolution over 12 years in 166 minutes, but also allows you to relive a little bit of your own.
I just finished watching 21 Up, the third episode of the Up Series–an incredible documentary following the lives of 14 individuals from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances from age seven onwards. The first episode, 7 Up, was released in 1964, and ever since, an episode (of seemingly increasing length) has been released every seven years. The series is up to 56 Up–meaning the documentary participants are now over 56 years old, given that 56 Up came out in 2012–and I’m excited to see where life has taken these 14 individuals.
Some observations I’ve had about the series so far:
(1) At first it seems as if you’re seeing nothing more than 14 people grow up in front of your eyes–not terribly exciting, given how many people you watch doing that already in your daily life. But this documentary is so much more than that–it not only explores 14 individuals, but 14 individuals from very diverse backgrounds. It’s interesting to see how bright little Neil Hughes from the Liverpool suburb becomes a squatter, while shy little Nicholas from the country makes it out of farmland and into Oxford. It’s interesting to compare the three rich little boys from the prep school diverge on their paths and opinions–while John and Andrew seem to be as snobbish and privileged as ever as they age, Charles grows increasingly critical of social inequities and eventually ends up at a less prestigious university than John and Andrew.
The series provides an illuminating perspective not only for comparison purposes between the children–how did the rich kids turn out in comparison to the poor ones? How are their perspectives on similar topics different? How do they express themselves? What are their values?–but also for comparison purposes within each subject–how do their viewpoints change over time? It’s different from watching those around you grow up, because whereas you often don’t have the opportunity to interview them all at once on what they think about a variety of subjects (and you often forget what they believed before), here you get to dig deep into the minds and beliefs