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Citizen 63 (1963)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Citizen 63 (1963)
BBC West for BBC, 28/8-25/9/1963
5 x 30 min, black & white
ProducerJohn Boorman
PhotographyEwart Needham
 Arthur Smith
MusicTony Desmond

The lives of five representatives of early 1960s Britain.

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Relatively little attention has been given to the early documentary work of John Boorman, one of Britain's major film directors - compared to that of, say, John Schlesinger, Ken Russell or, more recently, Paul Greengrass. Yet in the early 1960s he held the most responsible factual television position of any of them, as head of the BBC's Bristol Documentary Unit.

Moreover, two series personally helmed by Boorman had a widely noted impact on the nation's viewers. The Newcomers (1964), a tender account of a young couple's journey into parenthood, was a significant milestone towards the likes of Paul Watson's The Family (BBC, 1974), while the equally ambitious Citizen 63 was a cause célèbre. Each episode focused on "one person... part of our society", and employed thoroughly modern 16mm techniques to enable a worm's-eye view of a Britain on the cusp of great change.

The opening film, 'Barry Langford', about a flamboyant Brighton-based businessman with one foot in the music industry, had the greatest notoriety. Opening with a stentorian voiceover summarising the many facets of Langford's character, it went on to use a variety of techniques to explore each of them. Langford relates his diverse business interests, and we see some of his deal-making in action. Set against this is his commitment to family life, despite a difficult relationship with his domineering, often brutal late father, and a continuing attachment to Jewish heritage - although he is agnostic and determinedly integrated into English life. London and Brighton provide location footage, often set to popular music.

Later programmes featured more familiar character types: a police inspector, a shop steward, a scientist, and a teenage girl. Though there is narration situating them, each is once again captured in his or her own milieu by extensive mobile observational footage, much of it genuinely improvised, as well as interviewed in the studio. Stills and freeze-frames are among the modish devices employed to convey a sense of dynamism, and to foster the viewer's impression of each film as a sort of verité kaleidoscope.

It isn't easy to draw direct connections between Boorman's ambitious, often mythologically influenced, later feature films and Citizen 63 - perhaps it might be argued that they share an interest in using characters as both individuals and as archetypes. However, his earlier feature films share its fresh, youthful quality, emerging from slightly dated trappings.

Langford was revisited a decade later as part of Ten Years On (BBC, 1973).

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
1. Businessman, gambler, bridge-player, Jew (1:19)
2. 'Brighton is me' (4:16)
Complete edition: 'Barry Langford' (29:56)
Family, The (1974)
Boorman, John (1933-)