What’s It All About?

Source: Michael Caine, What’s It all About? (London: Century, 1992), pp. 31-32

Text: We had won the war but the shops were empty and even to get your legal ration of things you had to queue for hours. The one blinding light in the middle of all this gloom was the cinema, where I could escape for a couple of hours to somewhere better – usually America. I became an absolute fanatic about the cinema and besotted with what seemed to me the glamour of America. Most dreams are a let-down, but the cinema has been more fantastic for me than anything I could have imagined in those dark, depressing days, and America itself greater than anything I could have possibly imagined it to be. I really don’t know what I would have done at that time without the cinema and the public library, the two places where I could escape the grim reality of everyday life. I short I had become what they always said in my school reports: a dreamer.

In the library again my influences were American. I became interested in books about the war. The British wrote about officers, with whom I could not identify, but then I found Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, and James Jones’ From Here to Eternity; great books, written by ordinary soldiers about ordinary soldiers. I unconsciously started to identify with my own class in the cinema as well. The British cinema also seemed to be about the lives of the middle class and the aristocracy, whereas people in American films seemed to be to be more like me.

Comments: Michael Caine (b. 1933) is a British film actor, born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. he returned to London after the war having been evacuated to Norfolk, and this portion of his memoirs is from his time in London.

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