BFI LFF: My Generation (2017)

Photo by Jeff Spicer

Michael Caine cruises serenely through a presenting stint for My Generation, a stylish Rolls-Royce of documentaries, with his personal insider’s take on London in the Swinging Sixties.

With Michael Caine in the driving seat, it’s very much My View of My Generation, although his script is perceptively written by iconic sitcom writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Caine motors through it with his trademark hard-look-to-camera talking-head style.

There have been many such documentaries over the years. What’s new here is the clever intercutting of film clips of Caine in his early Sixties screen roles used documentary-style, thanks to editor Ben Hilton, so that 1966’s Alfie shows us what London looked like – down at heel and grey – before the Sixties really hit it. Presumably using his celebrity status, Caine pulled in famous pals to give their viewpoints. Interestingly, their comments are all used in voiceover and not shown on screen. There’s David Bailey, Joan Collins, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull, Bárbara Hulanicki (Biba), Lulu, Paul McCartney, Terry O’Neill, Mary Quant, David Puttnam, Sandie Shaw, Donovan and Penelope Tree. They’re the Sixties glitterati, the Pop Art generation of the early Sixties.

Though Caine’s narrative does go forward into the Hippie era of the late Sixties, it’s clear that wasn’t ‘his’ time in the same way and it’s not covered with as much energy as the years that saw his rise to fame. Though it’s informative about his career – his working-class typecasting and how it took an American director to first cast him in his breakthrough as an upper-class officer in Zulu. So the class system gets a mention, with an optimistic view of how it was starting to break down. “We were brought up to be servants,” he says, but a movement was taking place, young people were living away from their parents for the first time and there was a change of mindset.

And, as in many documentaries about the Sixties, the two different eras that formed that watershed decade and their signature music are somewhat conflated in the telling. It’s Caine’s view, and of course in itself it’s fascinating to hear from someone who lived through it as if it was one long party and not only survived it but also remembered it, but so much else is missing. What about the London of the music Jimi Hendrix, or of its new multicultural mix. The documentary uses as backdrop all the tried and tested Sixties pop songs, but there was so much more. Where did it all go wrong, he says, and My Generation is still a good start in trying to find out.

My Generation premiered at the Venice Film Festival and screens at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 8 and 9 October 2017.

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