For those now in their sixties and older, particularly if they spent their youth in London, “My Generation” is a fun trip down memory lane. And for the younger generation it could be a revelation as to what Granny and Grandad got up to in their youth.
Veteran actor Michael Caine, 85, recalls his days as part of the “swinging London” scene of the sixties with a little help from his friends, such as Twiggy, Marianne Faithful, David Bailey, Mary Quant plus members of The Who and of course The Beatles. The film also attempts to assess the impact that the sixties generation had on the life of this country, coming as it did on the heels of the dreary, repressed and hard up post war years.
Written and co-produced by comedy writing team Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais, now respectively 80 and 82, the film is pacey, entertaining and informative, although by no means comprehensive. The writer/presenter trio were actually quite old when the youth revolution really got underway, which was when the sixties were nearly halfway through. Caine had served his time in repertory theatre, before he got his big break in his thirties playing a posh officer in “Zulu” (1964)– which was ironic for a Cockney boy born in Bermondsey, at a time when working class actors and stories were coming to the fore – Tom Courtenay as “Billy Liar” and Albert Finney in “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960). Though Caine did plenty to promote the cockney culture later on, as we see in rather a lot of clips.
One of the main themes to emerge is how the class structure of the fifties started to crumble under the impact of the newly affluent and consequently self confident youth. Apart from Caine’s to camera narration, the stars of the time, such as Bailey, Faithfull, McCartney and co are interviewed in voice over with their younger selves on screen, rather than showing them as they are now with their wrinkles and sags. The only old faces on view are the spluttering and bumbling oldies of the period complaining about the “youth of today”. An important factor, as Faithfull (not working class) points out was the free education (no longer available) enabling young people to study at universities, art and drama schools. It was also a time of high employment. More young people than ever before could afford to live independently of their parents (another joy no longer available to many).
The film also covers the drug culture of the time and the call for political change and peace. But apart from acknowledging the fact that women were known as “birds”, little is made of the gender inequality and sexism of sixties society. Even the females who made it big, such as Twiggy, Faithfull, even Mary Quant, usually had a bloke in the background pulling the strings.
The decade did though lay the ground for the emergence of the Women’s Lib movement, as ordinary women abandoned home and hearth to juggle motherhood with careers outside the home. Not all young people lived in the swinging world. Some still married in their twenties, raised their children and went on to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversaries, though many others created their own alternative lifestyles.
The sixties certainly made a huge dent in the British class structure and gave working class young people a voice. We still though have a hierarchy, but now based on money rather than birth. The protest movements of the time arguably helped to end the Vietnam war but energetic campaigning and marching failed to ban the bomb. We still have the bloody thing. And we certainly don’t have a world ruled by love and peace. While the phrase used by one young political activist – “The government doesn’t exist for us. They exist for themselves” – still rings a bell today.
“My Generation” is currently available to download and is released on DVD. Blue Ray and Limited Edition from 28th May