I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I have never felt sorry to have missed the 1960s (I didn’t come along until the final few months of that decade) until I saw the brilliantly thrilling documentary My Generation last year at London Film Festival. Now it’s available on DVD and streaming (in the UK), so everyone can — and should — check out its can’t-miss look at how the burgeoning youth culture of that decade, particularly the hugely influential flowering of it that was centered in London, changed the world forever.
What makes this film stand out among other similar retrospectives is how personal it is… and because the perspective through which we witness this slice of history is that of the thoroughly charming Michael Caine. With the help of veteran documentary director David Batty and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who as a team wrote the delicious pop-culture lark Killing Bono and the terrific heist flick The Bank Job, both based on true 1970s events), Caine tells us his delightful tales of being on the leading edge of his generation. Caine’s story truly is a microcosm of everything that was happening then: the rise of the social power of the working class in Britain, the pushback against the strictures of the class system and — more potently — of the young against their elders. (His anecdote about how he got his first big film role, and everything it reveals about the state of British art and culture at that time, is worth the price of admission alone.)
As Caine explains, the 60s were “maybe the first time when the future was shaped by young people,” and in so many aspects. My Generation touches on music, movies, fashion, photography, and pop art. And sex. And drugs. Mary Quant’s miniskirts. Vidal Sassoon’s sassy short hairstyles for women (while the men were growing their hair long… at least compared to their fathers). David Bailey’s playfully sexy photographs of everyone from Twiggy to the Rolling Stones. The Pill. Absolutely everything and everyone mentioned here is now considered deeply, powerfully iconic: Carnaby Street and King’s Road; the Beatles and Marianne Faithfull; Alfie and Zulu. I had no idea how small a community this was. London was “cheap” (ouch!) and drew young people bursting with creativity and desperate to throw off the gray deprivation of the postwar years, and so these now-legendary people all knew one another! (Wait. Paul and John wrote the Stones’ first No. 1 song? *head explodes*) Adding to the exciting sense of the discovery is the wonderful cascade of amazing vintage footage, none of which feels like we’ve seen it a million before.
My Generation has plenty of snark for the oldsters and the stuffed-shirts of the era who looked askance — and aghast — at what their kids were up to. (Unfortunately, Caine’s description of “the older generation” of that time as “still [clinging] to the days when Britain ruled over half the civilized world” seems to apply to many of Caine’s own peers today: they’re the ones who voted for backwards-looking Brexit.) Yet there’s also a generosity, a clear-eyed hindsight in the film’s view of those who saw the world racing past them: “It can’t have been easy,” Caine notes with wistful affection, for their parents “to see us having so much more fun than they ever thought possible.” The film doesn’t pretend that the 60s couldn’t and didn’t end, both actually and in spirit, and it laments the passing of the circumstances that nurtured such innovation and artistry and attitude in the first place. It was a moment in history that will surely stand as a uniquely special one, and My Generation is a beautiful — and enormously entertaining — elegy for it.
first viewed during the 61st BFI London Film Festival