He has one of the most distinctive voices in show business and been instantly recognisable for more than 50 years. Blessed with a confidence and easy charm that belies a steely work ethic, Sir Michael Caine is as relevant today as he was back in his Sixties pomp.
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And to coincide with his 85th birthday on Wednesday, (March 14) he has celebrated by turning the clock back to his favourite decade. With style, grace and humour, Sir Michael, effortlessly it feels, has made everything old seem new again in the joyous My Generation with his very personal take on the Swinging Sixties.
A passion project which has been six years in the making, with thousands of hours of archive footage researched, only someone with his clout and contacts could have pulled together such a compelling cinematic caper. Scripted by comedy veterans, Dick Clements and Ian La Frenais, pop supremo Simon Fuller produces, acclaimed documentary maker David Batty directs whilst Caine narrates and stars.
Needless to say, the movie boasts a discography which must, at least in part, be the soundtrack to all of our lives.
The main drive of the film, which doesn’t weigh itself down with heavy loads of analysis, is that this was the decade where finally, the younger generation of ordinary working class people stood up for themselves. Whether it was in the creative world of film, theatre, photography, fashion, dance or art, they refused to give up, give in or go away.
No longer did you have to be a wealthy toff to be artistic and successful. This was of course also the lucky generation because as Sir Michael acknowledges, post-WW2 Fifties was depressing, grey and dull. Rationing had only stopped six years earlier.
Roger Daltrey, Mary Quant, Sir Paul McCartney, David Bailey, Marianne Faithfull and David Hockney - to pick a random handful from the multitude featured and interviewed by Sir Michael in the documentary – still, happily, have more than a hint of rebellion about them.
Add Sir Michael’s enthusiasm, lack of cynicism and stunning archive footage and the decade feels incredibly alive and immediate. Plus, very cleverly, there are no Talking Heads. The interviews are off camera – a shrewd and aesthetically beautiful move. The footage of Michael Caine is the only contemporary face that the documentary makers allow to appear on screen.
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Caine is a compelling story-teller, whether it’s the oft-told yarn about changing his name or how he got his first major movie break on Zulu. He makes it sound as if you’re hearing it for the very first time. Add the screen writing of Clements and La Frenais to the mix and you have cinema gold.
“Never look back in anger, always look forward in hope and never, never dream small,” says Sir Michael towards the close of the film.
It’s impossible to guess which of them dreamt up that one-liner. But it’s classic isn’t it? And a perfect fit for all generations.
My Generation opens nationwide on Friday March 16, rated 12A.