There’s nothing like a cleverly made documentary to bring up the obvious and somehow make you believe you’re hearing it for the first time. The general purport of David Batty’s nostalgic romp through 1960s Swinging London is that the milieu announced the triumph of the working class over the gentility that dominated British culture up until that point. As their mouthpiece, Batty and screenwriter Dick Clement and Ian L Frenais use Michael Caine, who’s more than game to make the case that he and his Cockney-inflected cohort changed England for the better and forever. No one who has owned a pulse for the past fifty years is going to argue with that, and while the film’s visual design and pacing makes for lively discourse, the narrative rushes through so many sub-themes—pirate radio, sexual liberation, revolutionary fashion photography—in its brief 85 minutes that you wonder why they just didn’t make a TV series out of it. Actually, maybe they did, given how ubiquitous feel-good 60s nostalgia is at the moment…for the third or fourth time.
What’s memorable are the details as conveyed through Caine’s “you had to be there” form of rhetoric, in particular his transitional ploy of trying to prove that the undermining of Britain’s supposedly inviolate class structure was premised on trained actors in films using their natural accents rather than the generic posh diction that had always ruled onscreen. We also hear from contemporaries like Twiggy and Mary Quant about the transgressive effect of fashion that blurred gender boundaries, though, except for some winking asides related to the ascendancy of Vidal Sassoon’s unisex hairstyles, not much of it is related to LGBT issues, which would become more of a political matter in the 1970s, but, still, it seems like a glaring omission. The Beatles are copiously mentioned, but, thankfully, the film doesn’t make them out to be the be-all-and-end-all of the British renaissance. If anything, The Who (whose Roger Daltrey comments almost as much as Caine does and which provides the movie with its title) and The Kinks seem more closely attuned to the spirit of the moment than either The Beatles or The Stones.
It’s all good fun, and might possibly enlighten youngsters who’ve heard some good tunes (the soundtrack is impeccable) and might want to know more about 60s music and fashion. However, I’m not sure if they will come out of the movie feeling any more respect for boomers, who continue to take a deserved drubbing in Western civilization for what they’ve left behind to their grandchildren. My Generation makes a strong case for the cultural progress achieved in the 60s, but Caine’s unmediated tone is smug and slightly off-putting, and consequently justifies that opinion which says boomers are too full of themselves to own up to their failures as bearers of that legacy. After all, what has Michael Caine done for us lately except Alfred in Batman?
Now playing in Tokyo at Bunkamura Le Cinema Shibuya (03-3477-9264).
My Generation home page in Japanese.
photo (c) Raymi Hero Productions 2017