David Batty • Director
“I wanted people to experience the sixties”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2017: Cineuropa spoke to David Batty, who presented My Generation out of competition at the Venice Film Festival – with the help of one Michael Caine
In My Generation [+see also:
interview: David Batty
film profile], which played out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, director David Batty and living legend Michael Caine look back at the swinging sixties, inviting some well-known friends along for the ride. Jumping from legendary fashion shop Biba to the parties that saw The Beatles dancing alongside The Rolling Stones, they tell the story of a decade that shook up the world – and introduced it to miniskirts.
Cineuropa: In My Generation, you are trying to paint a portrait of a certain decade. What made you want to do it in the first place?
David Batty: If you are asked to make a film with Michael Caine, you are going to say yes, unless you are completely mad [laughs]. But seriously, I was born in the 1960s. Both of my parents, just like Michael Caine’s, came from a working-class background. They were the first people in their families able to do something other than work in a mine or a factory. My father became a journalist, and my mother was a ballet dancer. In our house, you could always hear The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and my mother would shop at Biba. Richard Lester, who went on to make A Hard Day’s Night, was a friend of the family, and when I was six, I shook hands with John Lennon. I grew up with all this.
Why did you decide to invite other people along as well? Except for Michael Caine, we don’t see them on screen; we can only hear them, telling stories of their youth.
I wanted people to experience the sixties, which is a huge subject, and you could say that we left out a lot. Of course we did – there is just so much to tell. But I wanted to take you on that journey: transport you back and then keep you there. If you show the way these people are now, I thought that would just break the magic. I kept Michael in because he is our master storyteller, and he still does have this iconic stature. But soon, we are going to make a slightly more conventional television series, and you will be able to see them then.
In most documentaries, the interviewer usually doesn’t share the experiences of the interviewee.
Michael went through the 1960s with all of these people. He knew them. But what he didn’t know was where they came from or their personal stories – so that was the motive for him. He wanted to know how they got to be Paul McCartney or Mary Quant. It became a conversation.
Did you always want to keep it that light?
There is so much you could say about the 1960s. But what Michael or my parents represent to me is a very inspiring story, especially when you know where they came from and how shitty Britain was at that time. So that’s what I wanted to tell people. It doesn’t matter who you are – you can do anything. So I don’t know if it’s a light story, but it sure is simple. And very fast, because it’s the whole of the sixties crammed into 85 minutes.
Watching My Generation makes one realise how much more adventurous people used to be. Would you agree with that?
It always has to do with what came before you. Everybody is outrageous now, so maybe the next new thing would be just about being normal. In the sixties, pop culture was suddenly given proper relevance. Until then, culture was something you did when you were high-class and well educated. Paul McCartney has this great line in the film which I think sums up the whole thing. He says: “Pop music is the classical music of now.” That’s exactly what Michael was doing in his films or The Beatles were doing in their songs. Michael Caine said that as a child, you always wanted to dress like your mother and father. Then, when the sixties came along, the mothers and fathers tried to dress like their kids. They tried nothing, so the new generation wanted to try everything. If you look at some of the fashions from the sixties, they’re just awful. But Mary Quant thought that the last thing clothes are supposed to do is to keep you warm. It’s a great philosophy: form is just as important as function.
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