His name is Michael Caine, and he is here to tell you the story of the Swinging Sixties as he and his contemporaries remember it. This decade, he posits, was the first to truly stand up against the previous barriers society had put in place to equality among the classes, the genders and yes, the generations, and though he was slightly older than many involved, he felt he was at the forefront of this revolution. In this documentary he interviews selected survivors of those days on their impressions of that time when they were young and vital and changing the world, along with a commentary on his own career and how it related to those heady years...
Now, documentaries like this are ten a penny on many a television channel, assembling a bunch of clips so old that it's only nostalgia holding them together, they've been aired that often, and with a script so obvious you could practically write it yourself. Not purely about the sixties, either, as every decade within living memory receives this treatment, but what My Generation had in its advantage was the roster of talent they got to discuss the subject, albeit with some getting more to say than others. Paul McCartney had plenty to say, as did Marianne Faithfull, but if you were a Sandie Shaw fan then you may be let down that she was barely given any airtime at all.
"Airtime" rather than screen time for though we saw plenty of Caine as he was now, everyone else was depicted as they were back then in the archive footage, while we heard them as they were at the time they were interviewed, their voices of experience making a striking contrast with the images of yesteryear. Also to its advantage was a script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who had both come to prominence as writers during the sixties on television and film, so as they had the memories to work with they were able to deliver a more rounded, fairly accurate collection of observations and commentaries for Caine to speak, though he got in some biographical detail.
Obviously, with a running time under ninety minutes there was only so much depth they could indulge themselves in, yet the left a pretty decent impression of how this decade shaped everything that happened afterwards in a way the fifties being a hangover from the Second World War years and before, did not. We are told, and shown, the youth of Britain now with all these opportunities thanks to better education and health care, and a chance to earn more than their parents did, and travelling to various hubs of activity, mostly Swinging London, to genuinely define themselves as not merely apart from their parents' generation, but as something entirely new and fresh. That so much of this footage was in colour was significant, as it offered an authenticity to what we were guided around: a documentary about the fifties would have largely been black and white.
The class aspect was illustrated when working class celebrities emerged to lead the way, actors like Caine, for example, but also singers and musicians like The Beatles, The Who, Shaw, Lulu and many others, or models and photographers like Twiggy and David Bailey, all of whom are represented in interviews specially recorded (the Rolling Stones were apparently not invited, or too busy to contribute). The dark side of the sixties was not ignored, as the drugs that promised to expand the mind ended up closing many down - Faithfull has her own horror stories about that - yet also gave the establishment the excuse to punish the youth for stepping out of line. It could not last, and the seventies were just around the corner which according to this delivered on the gloomy predictions that the party was over, but in the main this was a cut above the usual nostalgia doc, with many unfamiliar clips thank goodness, and a breezy, speedy overview of the era, with a plethora of vintage records on the soundtrack.