The Michael Caine-produced and -narrated 1960s Britain documentary My Generation received an eight-minute standing ovation when it premiered here at the Venice Film Festival. That’s “a long time to stand there,” a bemused Caine told me when we chatted afterward. Opening-night jitters meant he’d been concerned that the Lido’s Sala Grande might instead be half-full “and no one would clap.” That was not the case, and Caine clearly was pleased.
My Generation is directed by David Batty and also produced by Simon Fuller. It’s a look at the ’60s in Britain, and particularly London, for which Caine interviewed contemporaries who were rising at the time. They include the likes of Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Twiggy, Mary Quant and the Who’s Roger Daltrey.
It was an important time in Caine’s life, he explained, not just because he was a young actor “and very poor and trying to make my way in the world, but the way the ’60s changed England. When I was 20 and came out of the Army, there was only one radio station, and they never played pop music. It was very snobbish.”
And it wasn’t just music. “When I was young with my mates, we only went to see American war films because American war films were about private soldiers, which we could relate to,” he told me. “But the British war films were officers, and we could never relate.”
Caine said he always thought it might be an idea to do a look back at the significance of the time, “but I didn’t know how to go about it.” Enter Fuller, who got the ball rolling. Caine then “wrote down all the things I thought about it, and they chose what they wanted to film.”
Batty commented during the press conference this week: “That generation made popular culture popular. The ’60s turned the whole dynamic around.” It was also the first time that “working-class people began to write working-class heroes.”
Ironically, Caine got his first big break playing a British officer. For Cy Endfield’s 1964 Zulu, the actor originally was to audition for the part of a Cockney corporal, but because he didn’t have a phone at the time, the production couldn’t reach him to say the part already had been cast. When he turned up, Endfield, an American, asked if he could do an accent. Caine responded that his years in the theater meant he could do any accent they wanted. If Endfield “had been English — even a left-wing communist — he still would not have cast me. I promise you. That’s what we changed.”
The ’60s was a heady time, Caine recalled. “We all knew each other, and I never met anybody who didn’t become famous.” His various flatmates included Terrence Stamp and Vidal Sassoon. “Once it started, there was such a flood you couldn’t stop it.”
I asked Caine how keenly aware he and his pals were of what was happening around them. “We weren’t, we were aware we would like it to happen,” he said.
There’s now a My Generation TV project afoot, which is being put together as a six-episode docuseries culled from 1,500 hours of research. Caine also will produce the series, which does not yet have a broadcast home.
Caine most recently appeared, voice-only, in Christopher Nolan’s box office and critical success Dunkirk, in keeping with their ongoing collaboration. “I’m the one who’s talking to Tom Hardy” on the radio in his plane. “The reason for that is I’m [Nolan’s] lucky charm — and it worked again with Dunkirk, God knows. I had a two-day part in Dunkirk, but I didn’t finish another film in time. So I said, ‘You’ve got to recast,’ and he said, ‘I’ve got to put you in the movie.’”
The Cider House Rules and Hannah and Her Sisters Oscar winner’s voice has become a thing unto itself — witness the Steve Coogan-Rob Brydon Trip To… films. Caine told me how that voice came to be. “What happened was, I made Alfie and it was a very big success in England. One day, the director rang me and said, ‘You need to do 125 loops of dialogue for Alfie.’ I said, ‘What for?’ and he told me it was going to be released in America and ‘Americans don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
So Caine did the loops in America and hoped for the best. He ended up with his first Oscar nomination and went to the States to promote the movie “and my voice changed. I don’t speak with a Cockney accent now, I speak with a voice that has Cockney in it, but it’s completely understandable to Americans. My voice is a product of going to America and having to speak so people could understand.”
IM Global is launching sales on My Generation out of Toronto, and just before Venice, it closed with I Wonder Pictures for Italy, which has handled such docs as Searching for Sugar Man, Citizenfour, The Act of Killing and The Eagle Huntress.