I am happy to report that the fundraising campaign to get everyone's favourite London cabdriver, Tony Walker, to New York to attend the premiere of 56Up was a success.
As in the UK, the film has received universally rave reviews from US critics.
Walker appeared at three showings of the film at Greenwich Village's IFC Center. At the sold-out first exhibition, Walker and series director Michael Apted did their double act, talking about their 50 years together.
Before the Manhattan audience, Apted asked Walker how appearing in the series changed his life? Walker replied that it didn't really: he remained the same happy-go-lucky individual depicted at seven years old. Walker clearly doesn't mind the fame, unlike some of the other Up participants, and even has put up a website to capitalise on it.
For the uninitiated, the Up series is a sociological study of growing up and the UK's class system. Back in 1964, Granada dispatched a film crew to various primary schools around Britain. Apted was a researcher, who had a hand in selecting 14 seven-year-old pupils to interview, including Walker, a cherubic East End boy who had aspirations of being horse jockey.
The UK television public fell in love with the programme, and seven years later in 1971 Apted went back to the then-awkward teenagers, who spent most of the time looking at their feet rather than answering questions about how they feel about the opposite sex.
Fast forward several decades, and we learn of the twists and turns of life that the participants have gone through. The film's original premise - what you're born into largely determines who you will be - largely holds true.
Perhaps it's a huge difference between the UK and the US. Could Bill Clinton and Barack Obama become prime minister of Britain? Probably not, although Margaret Thatcher was a shopkeeper's daughter, also overcame class-system adversity, bulldozing her way to the top.
Back to 56Up. A few of the participants vent about the ridiculousness of the project's attempt to sum up in 15 minutes what they had done in the last seven years, and that the viewer can therefore understand what that person is all about. In 56Up, more than the other releases, Apted relies on spouses and their offspring to talk about their somewhat famous husbands and wives, sons and daughters. There are lots of grandchildren literally in the picture now. Several of the original group have gone through divorces and working on second marriages.
This edition demonstrates what a rough time two of the three east end gals have had being working-class single mums: one with health problems (Sue); the other recently made redundant as a librarian in a job she loved (Lynn). It's obvious from watching 56Up, the privileged don't have the same problems and pressures that working and middle class endure.
Several became teachers. Nick, a scientist, would have much preferred to pursue his research in the UK, but Thatcher forced him to cross the Atlantic, where he has happily lived since being 35.
Although he "would have given my left arm to be a jockey", Tony remains a cab driver, and holds family above everything else, while observing the demographic changes of the east end. In a somewhat tense moment that interrupts the fairly restrained flow of interview proceedings, Apted enquires whether how Walker describes immigration patterns could be construed as racist. To his credit, Tony takes great umbrage of the director's suggestion - and states for the record that he loves all people, and always has done so. To Apted's credit, he left in that bit of drama, knowing that it's part of the storytelling process.
I am still most fascinated by the articulate, middle-class chap Neil Hughes, who admits to have developed emotional problems while in college. Since then, he has been at times homeless, wandering around Britain mostly unemployed. Apted probes why Neil hasn't had a lasting romantic relationship; the subject notes that he was never the one to leave.
As with the other films, Apted must rely on earlier footage so that the viewer can see the contrasts. The end result is that for the series faithful, there is relatively little new information. But one sequence repeated here and one I will never tire of - and I believe to be among cinema's most poignant moments - is when Neil explains during 42Up:
"I always told myself I would never have children, because children inherit something from their parents. And even if my wife were the most high-spirited and ordinary and normal of people, the child would still stand a very fair chance of being not totally full of happiness because of what he or she would've inherited from me."
Today, Neil still benefits from government handouts to supplement the paltry sum he receives as a local councilman from the Liberal Democrat party. He is shown pounding on a typewriter, and he tells Apted that he writes every day. Despite the exposure participating in the series has brought him, such as being preposterously introduced at an Australian political conference as being Britain's next prime minister, no publisher has ever shown any interest in his writing. Shout out to Neil: I'll give it a read.
Distributed in the US by First Run Features, 56Up will be televised on American television this summer by PBS and released on DVD some time after.
Last month I wrote about the mystery of 'Rotten Cotton', in which a poster found on London's Carnaby Street depicted EastEnders characters Dot Cotton and her no-good son Nasty Nick. Neither June Brown nor John Altman, the respective actors, knew anything about how their images showed up on the poster when the Walford Gazette contacted them.
Since the last post on 7 December, Jamie Evans, of Pontypridd, Wales, solved the riddle of 'Rotten Cotton', which was for a project/film called Dirty White Gold, depicting the bad working conditions and problems faced by cotton farmers in India.
The film's London-based director, Leah Borromeo, explains to the Huffington Post:
"Dr D is the artist behind the posters. Our film it's still in production."
Regarding EastEnders: "Both D and I have watched it at various points of our lives. Wouldn't say we're die-hard fans but it's definitely a part of pop culture that's affected us. The 'Cotton' link was because our film is about cotton farmer suicides and the debt that drives these farmers to do it. It's a poverty and a debt that we as consumers have a direct influence on. So 'Rotten Cotton' is to do with corporate greed and corruption that is causing farmers to die."
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