Nostalgia for the 60s is the reason for My Generation, presented by Michael Caine and screening tonight on Rialto Channel, to exist, according to Dan Slevin.
Michael Caine has been a cockney for 86 years but you might say he’s been a professional cockney for 54 years, after he was finally allowed to use his normal accent on the big screen for the first time in The Ipcress File. (Let’s set aside the fact that – as a product of Elephant & Castle, south of the river – he wasn’t born within the sound of Bow Bells so he technically isn’t a cockney after all.)
Caine is the presenter of a new documentary called My Generation, about those glory years of the 60s when the British class system seemed to fall apart under pressure from rebellious youth with long hair, regional inflections and talent for music, photography, fashion and art. Of course, the class system didn’t collapse at all, it just adapted to absorb all of this new activity and take advantage of it. When you see the boxes of Mary Quant’s signature brand of cosmetics rolling off the production lines, you can bet that the real money was being made by the same people who were always making it – flicking some royalties off to these upstarts – and the lives of most working class people weren’t changing in any real way.
Caine’s own accent seems to be even more cockney now than it was then, raising questions about how much it is being amplified now or was being suppressed then – even when he was supposed to be celebrating his background. In the film, he talks to others whose glory days were in London in the 60s – Roger Daltrey from The Who, photographer David Bailey, model Twiggy, singer Marianne Faithful and others – and spins a few well-worn yarns of his own.
One of the nice things about the film – which frankly is a not the deepest analysis of the 60s that you’ll ever see – is director David Batty’s use of 60s Caine footage to link the stories. Watching young Caine get in to Charley Croker’s Aston Martin in The Italian Job and then cut to today’s Caine driving that same car around London is pure nostalgia which is the film in a nutshell really.
My Generation is written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, two writer/producers whose own careers were launched in the 60s but peaked in the 70s with the sitcoms Porridge and then Auf Wiedersehn, Pet in the 80s. Hard-hitting documentarians, they are not, and My Generation might work better for Boomers who want to relive the glory days than anyone younger wanting to know what really happened.
My Generation is playing on Rialto Channel on Wednesday 6 November at 8.30pm. Check guides for further screenings.