Friday, May 28, 2010

What's it all about Michael?

Why do I love Michael Caine? It’s not strictly about the acting talent. Though that’s a huge part of it. Let’s be honest, the man has dropped more than his fair share of bombs, so to speak, over the years. To hear the critics tell it, his latest movie Harry Brown, which one critic recently called “neo-fascist” in its politics, is one of these.

On the other hand, when has Alfie (the name of one of Cain’s most memorable characters) given monkeys what the chattering classes of the film industry had to say about him or his roles. After all this is a man who famously said, when asked why he did so many bad movies, that “ They pay the same as good movies.” With that kind of cockney guttersnipe humour, frankly, it’s hard to hold any of his cinematic mistakes against the man. It also demonstrates as key point about Caine’s success, that the man has had such a long and storied career, that at this point no single film role will ever be able to define it. The fact is, like all legends, the man has transcended his medium and become a cultural and national treasure.

Caine resume includes roles that have not only ensured his own legacy, but also represent a kind of guide to post-war Britain’s social, cultural and political evolution. Zulu, one of his most beloved films, an action, adventure historical epic with a slightly racists depiction of the natives and a slightly colonial portrayal of the heroic British regiment. In Alfie (please don’t mention the re-make), Caine plays a lovable cockney cad whose womanizing eventually causes his undoing (admittedly, not much of a stretch for Caine!). Get Carter, a brilliant gangster film that is set in the decaying former industrial hub of Newcastle. All these films deal with themes that reflect the zeitgeist and problems that afflicted British society at the time they were made.

For my money, nothing epitomizes the cool Britannia slogan better than Cain. He has been adopted by every generation as symbol of both suave sexuality and iconoclasm (particularly when it comes to challenging the class system in his films), and has been name checked in countless pop songs (e.g. Michael Cain by Madness). Caine’s new movie may be pants but, ultimately, whose going begrudge and old geezer his fun.

The Future is Unwritten