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KS5 Film and Media Studies: Billy Liar (1963)

Consider a series of lateral tracks used to introduce this British classic

Main image of KS5 Film and Media Studies: Billy Liar (1963)
AuthorPoppy Simpson, BFI
Topic Tracking shot
Key WordsComposition, mise-en-scene, angle, perspective

Kitchen-sink reality meets airy fantasy in this British classic. Billy Fisher, an undertaker's clerk with an overactive imagination, has to decide whether to stay in his northern hometown or move to London.

Billy Liar (1963), can be used in endless ways in the Film and Media studies classroom - to look at British 'new wave' cinema, explore how the space between reality and dreams can be realised on the screen, film as social comment to name but a few.

However, this activity (somewhat disappointingly) is concerned with the tracking shots and establishing shots, using the opening sequence of the film as an example.



Watch the extract Morning reverie for the first two minutes (the last three of this five minute extract are not relevant to this activity). Ask students to think about what they learn in this opening sequence. Where are we? What time? Who is this film likely to be about?

Now, ask students to think about the camera techniques used in the sequence. The director uses lateral track to show house upon house, row upon row of flats etc. Why does he employ these tracking shots? Why not, for example, choose to shoot a number of static shots of the different types of houses and flats we see?

Hopefully, students will be pick up on the director's desire to emphasise the uniformity of these semi-detached northern homes and blocks of flats. Why do they think this is? What is the benefit of using a flat, geometric angle for these tracking shots? What is the significance of their duration?

Having discussed students' ideas, why not challenge them to write their own definitions of a track and an establishing shot.


Some more ideas

  • Challenge students to find two further examples of an establishing shot from within Screenonline.
  • Watch the extract in full and analyse the way in which Billy is first presented to the audience. How does the filmmaker establish his character early on in the film?
Video Clips
1. Morning reverie (5:29)
2. Meeting Danny Boon (1:53)
3. Billy and Liz (2:48)

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Billy Liar (1963)Billy Liar (1963)

Read more about this film

See also