Appearing in more than 115 films over his long, quintessentially British career, Sir Michael Caine is indisputably a Blighty film icon. There really is no one better to present this orgy of 1960s archival footage.
He’s the top candidate not least because, unlike his peers, he managed to keep his nose clean; both figuratively and literally. A fair amount of the film is devoted to the drug taking that became synonymous with the time’s blossoming popular culture. Caine says he smoked a spliff just once. When he couldn’t hail a taxi home and had to walk, he decided it wasn’t for him.
It isn’t the only time Caine feels singled out from the others of his generation. At times it seems like a school reunion that only he showed up for. Interviews with stars like Paul McCartney, Twiggy and Mary Quaint are all audio overlays. Why they don’t appear on screen is unbeknown to us.
On balance, My Generation is a pleasurable throwback to a defining era in British culture, marred by a lack of substance. Speaking of life as an adolescent in post-war Britain, Caine rather embarrassingly claims that his generation was the first to be unsatisfied with the groundwork laid by the generation before. The empty lines come in dribs and drabs, but it’s the erratic, jumpy storytelling that’s the most unfulfilling.
Largely, it’s a nod to the ascendance of working class artists, designers, actors and actresses, models and musicians. More specifically, it’s a nod to the iconic output of their work. In fashion, the miniskirt became the uniform of a newly liberated, promiscuous woman, and in music, real lads in bands like The Who and The Beatles singing British-made rock and roll had reached god status – even in the US.
In film, Caine spearheaded the arrival of cockney boys on the big screen. He was, by every definition, an East London, working class boy. He was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite – choosing his film name stood in a phone box speaking to his agent – to a charlady and fish-market porter. When he left school at 15, he joined the army, later serving in Korea.
It wasn’t until American director Cy Endfield cast Caine in Zulu that a cockney boy had ever secured a starring role in a big film. His most famous roles from films like Alfie and The Italian Job appear throughout My Generation; sometimes taking lines to stitch together an edit, other times with little effect at all.
For the ageing Anglophile, this will be a riot of a trip down memory lane. For the rest of us, it’s a song and a dance about a time gone by that’s easily bopped along to.