By Alec Deacon
“We had three minutes to live. You just did everything now.”
My Generation is a snap-shot documentary, presented, narrated and starring, British screen hero, Michael Caine in which, he and many famous friends from, Twiggy to Mary Quant and Paul McCartney to Donovan discuss the decade that made them, the 1960s.
Unfortunately, what initially sounds incredible on paper is lost in the creation. The interviewees are never seen, not necessarily a complaint and can be refreshing, with a style the Senna documentary used to great effect, when the usual go to can be, ‘talking heads’, but while we hear their voices out of time as it were, i.e. – no Caine jumping in with a follow-up comment to establish context, it is difficult at times to differentiate what is being said in archive interviews and new material overseen by our host.
A lot of time is spent at the beginning of My Generation showcasing Caine driving through London in a classic Aston Martin seemingly to set him apart from his contemporaries right from the get go. Caine appears to have been chosen to oversee this project not just because he is an icon of the decade but as a counterpoint to what his contemporaries were striving for and what the documentary portrays. Having Caine speak seemingly against drugs use at one point is an example. He may as well have stood up and said “just say no kids”.
The set-up appears to be largely about Caine’s journey with the occasional big name dropping-in and checking-out, with maybe far too much time spend on photographer David Bailey and his often very similar stories. The interviews Caine is apparently conducting, are more akin to informal chats and a quick get together with old friends. They sound fun, and the footage they talk over is always trying to tie-in, but when it can’t the clips just feel forced and almost pointless.
With Caine travelling all over the world working on various feature films at the height of his popularity it does make you wonder how much he missed and how much he was involved in outside of things like The Italian Job and Alfie. Caine even says at one point how he had no time to entertain the ladies like his wayward anti-hero character Alfie.
There are large gaps in the story of the era, James Bond (and Spy adventure in general) for example (a rights issue perhaps?), and technology (which was touched upon in the live Q&A that followed cinema screenings). Was the feature cut short purposely to allow time to broadcast the Q&A live via satellite from BFI Southbank? Perhaps but one only has to look at what was achieved with Ron Howard’s Eight Days A Week cinema experience, a feature covering just a small time in The Beatles career, to see what could have been with My Generation. It would be nice to see the full Q&A with Michael Caine, Director David Batty and moderated by Edith Bowman, released on the home media as an extra.
The soundtrack of course deserves a mention. While all the regulars are present and correct, The Kinks – check, The Stones – check, The Who and so on, nothing beyond a – Spotify 60s play list, is achieved (again, a rights clearance issue perhaps?), with literal lyrics culled at every opportunity to telegraph narration and imagery. A very tired trope it has to be said. It is not to say the music isn’t great, but hearing Waterloo Sunset played over sleepy sunlit shots of swinging 60s London, is getting a bit boring now.
My Generation has been painstakingly assembled over the last six years, or so it says, by Caine working with producer Simon Fuller, writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and director David Batty. But what exactly has been done in that time and took so long is unclear. The over-arching problem with My Generation is the desperately short runtime. Coming in at a very lean eighty-five minutes, this documentary is far too short for one persons story let alone dozens, not to mention ten important years of cultural history. Subjects are skimmed over, great stories are cut short and things are just not mentioned at all. To get everything they’ve found, filmed and recorded into a running length like this, the makers have left out far too much for it to feel complete and have essentially delivered a showreel for a much larger project. Which leads me to…
Apparently My Generation is to be adapted into an extended TV series. Full interviews maybe, with more time to build on the ground work the short feature has put in place would be great. Was this always the plan? Perhaps. All that said, the majority of the problems with the feature as it stands may be resolved by the series. We will have to wait and see but that definitely sounds like the better viewing experience.
My Generation is a perfectly fine reverential documentary. It doesn’t do anything majorly important in terms of uncovering new information or giving us something different, but it has got an endlessly engaging subject, the 1960s and Mr Maurice Micklewhite of course. Michael Caine is brilliant as always and when he goes off on a tangent about his own life and experiences, everything lifts a notch and excels and becomes really fun. Something that maybe should have been the real focus, leaving the wider subject and guest appearances for the TV series?
My Generation offers viewers some ‘new’ beautiful, high definition archival footage of a groovy time of fashion, freedom, free love and music, but it is almost forgettable and not really needed, saved only by Sir Michael Caine and his on point delivery and wit.
My Generation is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Limited Edition on Monday 28 May and is available now on Digital. Don’t forget to check back and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.