Welcome to Chestbeating By Word. Writings on artists, experiences, entertainment and fiction.

How Many Up?

How Many Up?

Hands up everyone who thinks the groundbreaking TV documentary 7UP and its multiples thereafter [now up to 63Up] are the greatest documentaries ever. And you know what else? They have a dark side, an evil, bad side. I think they provided inspiration for one of the dumbest things to have been created on this planet. I think the concept of 7UP et al provided the idea for reality TV. And if so, it certainly proves that even the very best of things can have a negative aspect. I believe the saying is “Every rose has a thorn.”

At this point to fill up the word count I might just explain the concept of the “7 Series.” Filmmaker Michal Apted found 14 children from various backgrounds in England sat them in front of the camera and asked them questions about their hopes and dreams etc. And he has done the same with the group every seven years since with the latest update being 63UP. As a documentary it is compelling viewing, alternatively funny, heartbreaking and incredibly revealing. And it is not just about the participants, somehow the camera kind of turns on us, the viewers, when you watch the show.

The series has won many awards, had millions of words written about it and if you have never watched one of the installments go to SBS and start with 7Up and enjoy one of the most interesting observations of the human experience ever documented.

Or stay watching The Bachelor. It is up to you.

Even Blaze has heard about it and he got inspired. Actually, Blaze got inspired twice over. The first time when I said the different titles he thought I was referring to some porn films with those funny puns in their titles like Forrest Hump, The Di Vinci Load etc. Then I explained more slowly and with pictures the concept of the number and the word “UP” to Blaze and instead of his eyes gazing over, which I must admit was what I was expecting, he was inspired again.

It turns out that Blaze thought he would basically copy the show, swapping out us interesting humans for a focus on a different animal. I am talking snakes. Yes Blaze is doing a “7series” on his pet snake Barry. In a move that obviously shows a degree of planning not always associated with Blaze he has decided to make the gaps seven minutes and not seven years. Wise move from Blaze seeing the average python only lives fifteen years. That and the fact that filming every seven months would have tested Blaze’s commitment to factual film making.

I know all of this because I went over there on the weekend and found Blaze and his daughter setting up lights and a video camera in front of the glass aquarium repurposed that is the home of Barry the python.


Blaze’s daughter, a young woman of considerable poise and intelligence, was busy convincing her father that she had no intention of applying any make up from her prodigious personal supply on the snake and no, the snake did not look washed out under the lights. I have seen the rough cut and to be honest she is right. The snake’s colours are wonderfully captured and a bit of lipstick and foundation would have been superfluous. That is not the problem with his documentary.

Barry, even more laid back than usual with the increased heat from the extra lights and full from the thawed rat he had devoured the night before, simply did not move during any of the footage. Well except in 35Up where he tilted his head slightly further to the left. Other than the constant flicker of tongue he might as well have been a rubber snake.  

Now if the snake was Nicole Kidman you would blame the director. Everybody knows that with strong direction she is a fine actor but there are other times when watching her in films is like watching Barry. In this case though I don’t think that Barry was well cast, he is not a leading man kind of snake, more a character player. Also a bit more work with camera angles might have made the footage more interesting and I can say with authority that there was some on set tensions with make up but let’s face it the whole concept was too derivative and underdeveloped.

Blaze was pretty happy though and I suspect he saw the footage as an additional weapon in his battle to become a presenter at Australia Zoo.  Between you and me I am happen to know that he has always found the widowed Mrs. Irwin quite desirable but that is another story for another time.


So what have we learned from Blaze’s directorial debut? Obviously despite a certain graceful menace and a generally bad rep with us humans, snakes are fucking boring. Not being able to talk is clearly a problem, as we learnt nothing about Barry’s hopes and dreams, like and dislikes and as he is in a sealed glass tank, there is no love life.


What Michael Apted knew when he created the UP series is that we humans are all different and yet we all have the common yearnings to belong, to love and be loved and to leave a mark. And while we are doing those things as best we can, life will throw challenges at us and he thought if he could capture just some of that with his cast it would be great TV. He was right but I wonder whether he knew how much the show would make the viewer reflect on their own life’s journey.


Six Songs About Growing Up


Dammit – Blink 182

 Time – Pink Floyd

1979 – The Smashing Pumpkins

Changes – David Bowie

In My Life – The Beatles

We’re Going To Be Friends – The White Stripes

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Have Faith in Science

Have Faith in Science