Wednesday, August 4

Obituary of Michael Apted | Movie

Michael Apted, who died at age 79, was a director who moved easily between socially conscious documentaries and feature films with a special focus on female achievement.

On the latter side was Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), for which Sissy Spacek won the Oscar for best actress for playing country and western singer Loretta Lynn, and Gorillas in the Mist (1988), starring Sigourney Weaver as murdered conservationist Dian Fossey. He also enjoyed commercial success with the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough (1999) and the CS Lewis adaptation The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

It had its most profound and lasting impact, however, with the Up series of television documentaries chronicling the lives of 14 Britons in seven-year increments: “The Union Stewards and Executives of the Future,” as the show, Tim’s brainchild. Hewat originally expressed it.

Seven Up! It came out as part of the social and current affairs branch of Granada Television World in Action in 1964, when Apted was still a researcher. Her job had been to help find a selection of seven-year-olds to interview on topics like love, money, race, and opportunity. The selection was overwhelmingly white, male, London-centered, and from diametrically opposite ends of the social scale, an imbalance that Apted lamented (“We really weren’t careful enough when choosing boys”) and then corrected in 7Up 2000, featuring a new generation of youth. That was one of several shoots of Up (including foreign incarnations) in which he took on a producer role.

Michael Apted, left, filming 28 Up - 1984, with the subjects facing Jackie, Lynn and Sue.  He regretted selecting only four women out of 14 for the series.
Michael Apted, left, filming 28 Up, 1984, with subjects Jackie, Lynn and Sue. He regretted selecting only four women out of 14 for the series. Photograph: ITV / Rex / Shutterstock

Seven Up! it was thought of as unique; Only later did Apted and his colleagues realize that they had to follow the children into adulthood. Paul Almond ran the initial show before Apted took over the reins of all subsequent installments, which he also featured. His final contribution was 63 Up (2019).

The hardest edition to do, he said, was the second, Seven Plus Seven, in 1970. “The material was awful: when they were teenagers, they didn’t say anything. However, we begin to realize the power of the idea; even though the movie wasn’t very good, everyone was interested in it. “

He became friends with many of his subjects, which made him reflect on the relationship between art and life. “You want dramatic things to happen to them to make the movie exciting,” he said in 1986. “On the other hand, how can you wish for that? I’m not saying I want one of them to drop dead, but I find myself thinking, ‘God, no one has been divorced yet, no one has had a serious grief,’ all of which, in a grotesque way, would be wonderful. movie … so there’s this terrible dilemma between the friendship part and the movie-making part. “

Although Up’s films were internationally acclaimed, when Apted won the coveted Peabody Award in 2012, he lamented his skewed portrayal of women. “The change that has occurred with women in the workplace and the place of women in society is the most significant socio-political event in contemporary culture,” she said in 1995. “I missed it. He only had four women out of 14 and all four quickly adapted to domestic life. “

In her caring way, she pushed and challenged the trio of working-class women on the show, who gave their all. “I keep saying there’s a big world out there, beyond going to dances and having babies and money for beer,” Apted said, “and they just look at me on camera.” A connection emerged between this gender bias and the growing focus on women in his feature film work.

Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist, 1988, directed by Michael Apted.  Many of her feature films focused on female achievements.
Sigourney Weaver as conservationist Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist, 1988, directed by Michael Apted. Photograph: Allstar / Warner Bros / Sportsphoto Ltd

He was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire and raised in Ilford, Essex; her mother, Frances (née Thomas), stayed home while her father, Ronald Apted, worked in insurance. He entered London City School on a scholarship before studying history and law at Downing College, Cambridge, where his contemporaries included John Cleese, Trevor Nunn, and Stephen Frears.

He was accepted into a six-month Granada Television training course in 1963, and remained with the company for the remainder of the decade, directing numerous plays and programs.

It had a successful run on Coronation Street when the popular soap opera was enjoying one of its golden periods, with many screenplays written by the wonderful Jack Rosenthal. Apted had the distinction of directing the episode that brought down a viaduct over the head of the fearsome Ena Sharples, who survived with her hairnet intact. “Forget the damn movie stars!” then commented. “Violet Carson [who played Ena] and Pat Phoenix [Elsie Tanner] They were the greatest divas in Britain. It was a wonderful baptism, a fantastic training. Everything I learned about actors I learned from Coronation Street. “

Apted and Rosenthal had other successful collaborations, including the sitcom The Lovers (1970) and a couple of wise and funny TV movies: Another Sunday and sweet FA (1972) and P’Tang Yang Kipperbang (1982). Apted made his film debut with The Triple Echo (1972), starring Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed, adapted from HE Bates’ story about a deserting soldier disguised as a woman.

With David Essex’s Stardust vehicle (1974), he tried to show the ugly side of glamor and fame. In 1975, he began making Trick Or Treat, but filming fell apart after clashes with his star, Bianca Jagger, and the movie was never completed. Warner Bros hated its gritty and strangely cute London thriller The Squeeze (1977) and refused to release it in the United States.

Apted himself was unhappy with Agatha (1979), a drama about the disappearance of Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave), which he felt was thrown off balance when Dustin Hoffman was brought into the project to improve its box office chances.

It was in the US when Universal needed a director for Coal Miner’s Daughter after firing the original. Apted became familiar with the people of Appalachia and its surroundings, and brought a certain documentary authenticity to the film. “Michael was the key to everything,” Spacek said. “I shudder to think of what the movie would have been without him.”

Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, 1980, directed by Michael Apted.  Many of her feature films focused on female achievements.
Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980, directed by Michael Apted. Many of her feature films focused on female achievements. Photography: Cinetext / Allstar / Universal

His decision to play comedian John Belushi in a direct role in the love story Continental Divide (1981) was “a classic error in judgment,” but he was right to cast Dennis Potter to adapt Gorky Park (1983), a haunting thriller. set in Russia that Apted shot in Helsinki and Stockholm with Lee Marvin and William Hurt.

The extent of his eclecticism can be measured by the smallest sample of his work: Bring on the Night (1985), a documentary on Sting; Richard Pryor’s comedy Critical Condition (1987); the legal drama Class Action (1991); Thunderheart, a thriller about the oppression of Native Americans that came from his documentary Incident at Oglala (both from 1992); Nell (1994), starring Jodie Foster as a woman raised in the wild; and the code-breaking drama Enigma (2001).

Recent work included episodes of the television series Ray Donovan (2013-16) and Bloodline (2017), the latter reuniting him with Spacek. “I am more of a magpie than a visionary,” he said. “Little of what I do is about myself. I don’t usually make personal films, which allows me to have a huge variety in my work ”.

He is survived by his third wife, Paige Simpson, and three children: his son James, from his first marriage to Jo Proctor (his oldest son, Paul, passed away before him in 2014); John, his son from his second wife, Dana Stevens; and his daughter, Lily, from a relationship with Tania Mellis.

• Michael Apted, director, born February 10, 1941; died on January 7, 2021

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