Tribute to Michael Caine

Michael Caine

If there’s one actor for whom the word “professional” is more than just another way of characterizing a pragmatic attitude to work, then it’s the great Michael Caine. His unique career includes the most subtle and exquisite acting, as well as classic paycheck roles performed with dignity. And Sir Michael Caine, a lad from the British working-class environment, has never made a secret of it.

The more famous Michael Caine became and the further he moved up in the hierarchy of Hollywood celebrities, the more he enjoyed the discrepancy between his working-class origin and the snobbish film milieu. This even led to his provoking the establishment: “I’m every bourgeois’ nightmare,” he once said. “A Cockney with intelligence and a million dollars.”

His 80 or so films form a body of work, executed with incredible elegance, wit and actor’s ethos of the highest level. At the beginning of his career in the 1960s and early 1970s he had a standing order to play tough Cockney rebels, acting according to the motto “I want the world and I want it now.” With films such as THE ICPRESS FILE (1965), ALIFE (1966), GET CARTER (1971) and SLEUTH (1972) he became the epitome of British Cool and one of the biggest stars of international cinema. In his youth, Michael Caine played the daredevil: the secret agent Harry Palmer, whom he personified in several films, was a kind of surrogate James Bond from down below.

Born Maurice Micklewhite in London, Michael Caine derived his screen name from the film THE CAINE MUTINCY starring Humphrey Bogart. He had no problems transferring his complex dramatic art, in which an almost feminine charm and a stoically underplayed killer formed a strange alliance, to Hollywood. He took a bit of the toughness from earlier years and enriched it with an existential depth that manifested itself mainly by increasingly reducing the acting methods. In roles such as that of the weary husband Elliott in Woody Allen’s HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), for which he was awarded an Oscar, or the transsexual psycho killer in Brian de Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980), Michael Caine is simply there – without any acting tricks or antics. Perhaps his greatest achievement was countering the enforced method acting that prevailed in Hollywood for a long time, with an aura and presence based on exact observation and gestural suggestion. It is especially this courage to omit and sketch that makes him exceptional and lends his work dignity – up to the present day.

Most recently, Sir Michael, who was knighted by the Queen in 2000, excelled as the stoic butler Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. “And Michael Caine?”, a critic recently asked, disappointed at the latest Batman sequel, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, adding, “Yes, the butler is there, alas all too briefly and much too good.”

Michael Caine will be a guest of honour at the Viennale 2012.