For ninety glorious minutes one afternoon last week I was twenty years old again. I immersed myself in every delicious minute of (Sir) Michael Caine’s documentary My Generation playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Bloor Street West near Bathurst in Toronto. The film is a macro view of life in swingin’ London in the 1960s, the historical genesis and touchstone for baby boomers.
The film particularly resonated with me personally because I was in London in September 1967 while traveling around Europe for five months. I had just turned twenty. Watching all those old films of baby boomers in their sixties’ gear walking down Carnaby Street put me right back there on those warm, sunny September days fifty-one years ago, when all the store windows featured reproduction Twiggy mannequins with starry eyes, an androgynous haircut and that famous wonderful face. Ironically, many of the boomer cultural icons like Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and certainly Michael Caine weren’t even baby boomers. They were born in the early 1940s but we’re prepared to overlook that in the name of revolution.
Narrating My Generation, Michael Caine used many clips from his “Alfie” days to take us on the magical mystery tour of our past. Voice-overs by Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltry, David Bailey, Twiggy, Penelope Tree, Mary Quant, David Hockney and many other sixties icons brought context to the flashes of still and moving film on the screen. Strangely, they didn’t show current pictures of them which would probably have made a lot of us feel a whole lot better about how we’ve aged. I remember having a giant black and white poster of Michael Caine as Harry Palmer on the wall beside my bed at Willard Hall in 1966-67. At 6’2″, blonde and gorgeous, in my eyes he was perfection.
Michael Caine is the personification of what the sixties movement meant in the social context of 1960s England, saying “For the first time the future was shaped by young people.” After the deprivations and repression of the war and its followup years, the boomer generation, for the first time in history, shaped history. The rigid British class system was attacked and dismantled by young, creative working class talent. Never before had cockneys like Caine, Twiggy, and David Bailey or working class lads like The Beatles and Rolling Stones been able to rise above their station and achieve notoriety for their talent, pushing aside The Establishment.
When I was in England in 1967, like everyone else at that time, I listened faithfully to pirate Radio Caroline. It offered all the latest in-demand pop music, the polar opposite of BBC fare and they broadcast from an unregistered ship that moved around about three miles off the coast of England. If you haven’t already seen the movie “Pirate Radio” be sure to check it out on Netflix or another streaming source. Amazing! The soundtrack alone is mind-blowing.
The audience was obviously full of boomers and as we were sitting in the dark watching, I could hear laughs and assorted other vocal reactions to the scenes unfolding on the screen. So much recognition of our past. It was totally indulgent. The only problem was it moved too quickly and ended too soon. I could have sat there for at least another half hour as there was so much more that happened way back then that wasn’t covered. The pace was rather frenetic toward the end of the film. But it was still a glorious trip down memory lane. Because it’s a documentary with a limited audience it may be hard to find in local theatres but you can get it on iTunes. It’s a boomer must-see. Gen X’ers, Ys and millennials have a lot to thank us for.