Michalel Caine's generation

Michael Caine is synonymous with a vision of 1960s' London that has been a key influence on British culture ever since. 'My Generation', a new documentary narrated by and starring the actor, takes us back to this world, using his personal memories to explore the story of the time and the characters at its heart.

The documentary mixes interviews with extensive archive footage to create a living history, told by its main players like Twiggy, Paul McCartney and Marianne Faithfull with the vitality that came to define the era. Caine is a smart choice to narrate, as the idea of the upstart working classes wanting a slice of the good life was one of the most revolutionary aspects of the Swinging Sixties. It might have only been a lifestyle available to the elite few, but it changed what was thought of as possible, redefining the expectations of young people around the country.

 

'My Generation' doesn't offer much social analysis or interrogate the limits of this revolution, but that was never the point. This is about icons, people who altered fashion with every haircut. It's about their reminiscences of the most exciting time in their lives, not some dry, academic understanding of a historical period. That wasn't what the '60s were about, and their importance now is as much to do with the myth of the era as it is to do with its reality.

This romantic idea of London remains with us. It's brash, loud and colourful, especially when compared with the austerity of the 1950s, and was viewed with suspicion and disdain by the cultural gatekeepers who had dictated the course of British life for so long. Suddenly, new faces and accents were at the forefront of music, film and fashion, all turning away from the idea of respectable living to embrace everything that life offered them. American rock 'n' roll culture started this change, but it was the London scene that turned it into something aspirational. Even now, we look back on the Summer of Love and the Swinging Sixties as moments of freedom and hope that we've never quite got back. Compared to psychedelia and free love, our world of social media and chain-store fashion seems depressingly monochrome.

As a piece of mythology, this film successfully uses its unparalleled soundtrack and video footage to capture the spirit of the time, putting the icons front and centre to remind us all of just how much we owe to their work and vision. 

CultureEmma Millward