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Interview: My Generation director David Batty discusses the film & working with Sir Michael Caine

My Generation is out on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD now. To celebrate, we caught up with the director of the documentary David Batty to discuss the film and working with Michael Caine.

This must-see documentary presented by Caine, is a vivid and inspiring story of his personal life through 1960s London. Based on personal accounts and featuring amazing archive footage, My Generation sees Caine looking back at The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Twiggy, David Hockney, David Bailey, Mary Quant and more.

You can check out our full DVD review of My Generation here.

The film has been painstakingly assembled over the last six years to tell the story of the birth of pop culture in London, filtered through the eyes of the film star.

How did you first get involved with the project David?

The project came first came about by a chance meeting between Simon Fuller and Michael. Simon is a huge 60s music fan and Michael had always wanted to tell the story of how he became Michael Caine (he was of course born Maurice Micklewhite) – how a working class boy from the East End broke through the class barrier and conquered London along with a whole generation of his friends. I heard about the project from an old friend, Dick Clement (one of the writers Simon brought in) and immediately wanted to do it. I had to do it to be honest.

This documentary shines a fascinating light onto the decade. What first drew you to this era?

I am a 60s baby. I was born in 1962 and both my parents are beneficiaries (so as a result, am I) of that 60s social revolution – my Mother came from a family of factory workers from Manchester and my Father from mine workers in the North East. Both of them were the first in their family to break out of their ‘class’ and really do what they wanted to. My Mother became a dancer with the Royal Ballet and my Father was a very successful journalist and film-maker. So that 60s social revolution is what made them and as a consequence me too. I grew up with that story and with the music and its something I have always wanted to tell so when the opportunity came up…

The cultural revolution that took place in the late 60s was quite something. Do you think we will ever see the likes of it again in terms of its importance and influence?

It’s true there is something unique about the 60s – that’s the reason we keep going back there for inspiration. It’s more than just a decade, it’s a brand, a template of how to change the world. It’s where modern Britain really began, when we started to overhaul our class-ridden colonial past and develop a more diverse and creative society.

How was it working with screen legend Sir Michael Caine?

The old saying is ‘don’t meet your heroes’. Well I was lucky enough to direct one of mine. Michael is one of the reasons I got into film-making in the first place. Many years ago he filmed an acting masterclass (I think you can still see it on YouTube and I would urge everyone to watch it as its brilliant) and it was such an inspiration. He’s an absolute delight to work with. In the film he was doing something he hadn’t done before: interview a load of big name stars. He’s of course been interviewed a thousand times but he’s never been the interviewer before. So that was quite scary for me – would it work on screen? But of course, I needn’t have worried as Michael was a natural; and was always prepared to listen on those very few occasions when I had a suggestion or two.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw Michael Caine onscreen?

The very first time I ever saw Michael was in The Battle of Britain, when I was 7 years old! My father took me to see it as a birthday treat. Michael again plays against his class origins (as he so famously did in his first big film, Zulu) by playing the wing commander who sadly gets shot down. My favourite early Michael film is actually Get Carter which is still the best British gangster film ever made. Michael has such a brooding, brutal presence in it. I still love watching it now.

One of the things I loved most about My Generation is the candid and accessible way Michael Caine discusses the era to the viewer as if they were friends. Was this always the style you were going for when planning the documentary?

Yes it was. It’s a very personal story, Michael’s story, of how he broke through the class barriers and became a star and his story of his generation who did the same. We had always envisioned it as if Michael were telling these stories direct to each member of the audience. He is a consummate story teller and one of the first things I did when we started on the project was sit down with him and record his life story from birth to the end of the 60s. And it quickly became clear that he had a host of stories that all had a point to make – about class, about society, about sex, about drugs etc. So those were the ones we included in the film

Does filming a documentary require a substantially different approach than fiction in terms of conveying a story onscreen?

Not at all. They are both about storytelling. The ingredients and the process may be different but for me the approach is always the same – story, story, story.

My Generation
® Raymi Hero Productions 2017, Jeff Spicer

What is your favourite moment from My Generation that particularly stands out for you?

I have two favourite moments – the first comes very early in the film when two women are talking about Michael. They are two women whom he worked with in a small factory before he was famous. They were interviewed for an amazing documentary made about Michael called ‘Candid Caine’ that came out in I think 1967 after he had became famous. They are like characters from a Nick Park film. I love how they just ooh and ahh about Michael and how he was always dreaming…Its a very real moment in his life story. It was exactly the sort of thing we had always hoped to find in the archive.

The other was the sequence my brilliant editor – Ben Hilton – cut for Strawberry Fields. He really captured that moment of success when all our characters had just made it and were now globally famous but were still trying to cling onto the innocence of their previous lives.

You’ve worked on The Gospel of John, Matthew, Mark and Luke. These were massive Biblical epics the likes of which we don’t see every day. What are your memories of working on these ground-breaking films, which are widely regarded as some of the best and most faithful adaptations to screen ever made?

They did take 5 years to make, but I have been making films for nearly 30 years. It was a strange project in many ways as they were made for a very particular audience. But I loved the challenge of bringing such an amazing story to the big screen. I tried to make them as authentic as possible – so we didn’t have a blue-eyed Hollywood actor playing Jesus. Ours was dark-skinned and Middle Eastern looking…like the real Jesus. The slight irony is that they were all shot in Morocco with an almost completely Moroccan (so Muslim) cast and crew.

What subjects interest you as a director and can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

As I have already said for me it’s all about story. I like a good story and that means I have to care about it. I want to be moved in some fashion when I watch it. That’s my only criteria for doing a film. Beyond that I will tackle any genre or type. Thirty years ago I started out making films for Channel 4’s award winning documentary series, ‘Cutting Edge’. They were all fly on the wall films but they all tackled emotional subjects – kids who ran away from home, a woman whose children had been abducted by her estranged husband, a father who had walked out on his family, stepfamilies, the homeless, subjects with a real emotional arc to them. At the moment we are in the process of making a longer form doc series about the 60s using all the material we didn’t use in the film. I shot over 50 interviews and we found over 1500 hours of archive and we only used a fraction of that in the movie.

My Generation is out now on Digital, DVD & Blu-ray.

Jason Palmer
Jason Palmer
Jason is a film contributor for Entertainment Focus (EF) bringing you the latest news and reviews from the movie world.

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