A documentary by David Batty. Rated PG
For those unfamiliar with ’60s lore, or those who were part of the cultural upheaval and therefore need their memory cells recharged, My Generation is a terrifically entertaining overview of how colour came to drab postwar Britain, and class strictures finally began to fall away.
At only 85 minutes, there’s no way this swiftly moving clip show could cover all the bases. Good thing it has a stellar tour guide in one Michael Caine, doing double duty as himself today, reading prepared quips from this distance, and himself young, strutting down London streets—in perfectly matched clips from films like The Ipcress File and, of course, Alfie—back when England swung like a pendulum do. Roger Miller isn’t aboard, but everyone else is. Caine’s new-wave epiphany came, he recalls, the first time he went to the Ad Lib Club, and spotted “every single Beatle and every single Rolling Stone on the dance floor”.
Under the nifty direction of David Batty, who has mostly directed TV docs about religious history, the era is resurrected with archival footage and all the key songs—shout-out to music supervisor Tarquin Gotch—from the above-mentioned bands, plus Donovan, Cream, and that most English of English bands, the Kinks. Paul McCartney, the Who’s Roger D-D-Daltrey, and photographer David Bailey are among many alternate narrators heard, but seen only as their beautifully youthful selves. The film could have used some more female representation on the soundtrack, although singer Marianne Faithfull, designer Mary Quant, and protosupermodel Twiggy speak at some length about changes in fashion and sexual mores at the time.
This Generation probably takes on too much when it tries to encompass outer developments, like Vietnam and the North American counterculture. The lack of focus, in the end, is related to Caine—born Maurice Micklewhite in 1933—being a crucial decade older than most of the cohorts in question. Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who wrote for everyone on Brit TV from The Likely Lads to Tracey Ullman, are only a few years younger than Caine, and the mists of time seem to have obscured their mission a bit. Still, as long as some can gaze on “Waterloo Sunset”, we’ll be in paradise.