Ray & Liz, feature film for cinema, broadcast, DVD and online formats

Billingham, Richard ORCID: 0000-0002-6474-5656 (2018) Ray & Liz, feature film for cinema, broadcast, DVD and online formats. [Artefact]

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Abstract

Ray & Liz (1 hr 47mins), is a BAFTA nominated cinema feature film written and directed by Richard Billingham, produced by Jacqui Davies and shot on 16mm analogue film by cinematographer Daniel Landin. Its festival debut was in Locarno Aug 2018 and its UK cinema release was 8th March 2019. It took five years to make and is Billingham’s largest project to date in terms of its research, scope, dissemination, and number of specialist people involved. The film has been contextualised by critics as a work of ‘self - identification and realisation’ (Guy Lodge) and a ‘welcome addition’ to the British Kitchen Sink drama. The film also suggests a comparison between the austerity of the Thatcher era and the current political austerity of the Conservative Government. The film operates on multiple levels, engaging a wide and diverse audience. A central intention of the film is to acknowledge a life as remembered by one who actually lived it rather than to represent a life as it actually was. In this way the film is a departure from the conventions of autobiography ‘in order to come to terms with the fragmentary and extratextual nature of thoughts that underpin memory’ (Richter 2004). It transforms lived experience into cinematic art and often presents scenes as Billingham’s own childhood memories. Inspiration for this idea came partly from ‘The Terence Davies Trilogy’ (1983), a triptych derived from Davies own lived experience depicting human dignity triumphing over emotional / spiritual confusion. Billingham’s early childhood was spent in a small ‘two up, two down’ terraced house in the industrial town of Cradley Heath in the Black Country, West Midlands. Later on, his teenage years were spent with his parents in a small flat in a tower block on a nearby council estate typified by considerable vandalism in the Black Country, West Midlands. The film is non - judgemental towards any of its characters, rather it empathises with them, contextualising them in the time and place they lived. Pathos is gradually realised by the viewer rather than the films characters. Besides lived experience, research for the film also drew on a collection of audio tapes made by Billingham as a boy during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The audio recordings are of friends and family either talking about their own observations of life, telling family stories, singing and performing or engaged in everyday conversation or argument. They also record the ambient sounds of their environment such as dogs barking or birds singing. The vintage voice recordings assisted in obtaining authentic rhythms and tones of the regions unique Black Country dialogue, giving a sense that the characters all inhabit and come from one particular regional place. Billingham’s entire photographic and moving image practice is based on the close observation of everyday life and Ray & Liz draws on a number of the artists previous bodies of photographic and moving image work. This includes Ray’s a Laugh (1990 – 1996); Fishtank (1998); Zoo (2002 – 2006) and Black Country (1997 – 2003). Ray’s a Laugh is an award winning photographic body of work about the artists immediate family (father Ray, Mother Liz and younger brother Jason). Fishtank was a Documentary commissioned by Illuminations and Produced by Art Angel, London and award - winning film maker Adam Curtis broadcast on BBC2 (watched by 2 million viewers at the time) and Arte (France). Fishtank is about the artists relationship to his immediate family. Zoo is an internationally exhibited existential body of video and photographic work that focuses on the psychological effects of captive animals in zoos around the world. Black Country, also internationally exhibited, explores the artists relationship with the urban post - industrial environment of Cradley Heath. Black Country also depicts the town (typical of many UK towns from that time) in a transformative period from the 1990s to the early 2000s: i.e. one from that of a manufacturing industry to a service industry. ‘Ray & Liz’ offers new insights and connections between the already existing bodies of work, giving them form and providing context and backstory as to why those bodies of work were created by the artist in the first place. The feature also invites formal comparisons between the media of documentary photography (Ray’s a Laugh), documentary video (Fishtank) and narrative cinema film (Ray & Liz). All three bodies of this family work exist in the public domain, offering insight and discussion between media. Taken together, the three bodies of biographical / family work explore relationships of form, narrative and aesthetic. The works bring different approaches and perspectives towards the idea of ‘documentary’, in particular the crossovers, intersections and differences between film and photography and the relationship between constructed narrative and documentary. As well as evolving from lived experience, ‘Ray & Liz’ takes an approach of ‘show, don’t tell’. The political, cultural and historical context is achieved through authentic visual imagery and sound design rather than directly through character dialogue or voice over. The film painstakingly reconstructs events and memories by shooting as much as possible in the original locations where events took place and dressing sets with the same furniture and objects Billingham remembered from his childhood. In addition, authentic costume design, hair and make - up, authentic regional dialogue, soundtrack from the era (Susie and the Banshees, Fine Young Cannibals, Musical Youth harmonise and narrativize scenes) and ambient sound design contribute to the film’s verisimilitude to convey tacitly rather than explicitly the political, historical and cultural context of the time. The work avoids generalisations and tropes of depicting relative poverty and everyday working - class UK life by sticking rigidly to an empirical, lived experience approach in each and every stage of the films production, from writing, shooting, directing, editing and sound. Some scenes are transcribed from a number of particular photographs in ‘Ray’s a Laugh’. For example, the photographic portrait in ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ of Billingham’s mother’ Liz’ completing a large jigsaw puzzle is drawn on to construct two scenes in the film. Scenes are not faithfully reconstructed or copied from existing photography; rather they draw on the motifs, patterns, colours and textures that Billingham, growing up, would have seen, experienced and later photographed for ‘Rays a Laugh’ as part of his creative photographic practice. Motifs are used from ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ in a parallel way to how Manet incorporated the motifs of other painters works into his own practice, giving them a new cast. Billingham worked closely with DoP Daniel Landin to achieve the films individual look, texture and cinematic appearance. The choice of 16mm film stock and the adoption of an academy 3 x 4 ratio further situates the viewer in the time period it conveys. 3 x 4 was the aspect ratio of TV monitors and other technology such as regular / super 8mm (with its association of human memory) during the 1970s and 80s. Analogue film - as opposed to high definition digital video cameras - is used to convey the materials and textures typical of the period such as wood veneer, paper, cardboard, wool, cotton etc with verisimilitude. Ray & Liz has been screened internationally at Film Festivals on six continents including Jerusalem Film Festival, (International First Film Section); Las Vegas Film Festival; Sidney Film Festival, Flux: Art + Film; New Zealand International Film Festival, Auckland; Odesa International Film Festival, Ukraine; Melbourne Film Festival, Australia, International Panorama Section; New Horizons, Wroclaw, Poland, International Competition; Luxembourg City Film Festival, International Competition; Vilnius International Film Festival, Lithuania, European Debut Competition; Ficuman, Mexico, Official Selection; Dublin International Film Festival; Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong; Oslo Pix, Norway; Cleveland International Film Festival; Prague International Film Festival, Febiofest, Panorama Section; Tallin Black Nights International Film Festival, Forum Section; Festival of Buenos Aires, International Competition; Jeonju Film Festival, South Korea, Debut Film Maker’s Section; European First Film Festival of Angers, European First Feature Film Section; International; Uruguay Film Festival; Bogota International Film Festival, Columbia; Cyprus Film Days International Film Festival, International Competition; D’A Film Festival, Barcelona, Spain; Brussels International Film Festival, International Competition; Transilvania International Film Festival, Supernova Section; Skopje Film Festival, European Film Programme, Republic of North Macedonia; Yerevan International Film Festival, Armenia, International Competition Section; Kosice Art Film Festival, Kosice, Slovakia; Miradas International Film Festival, Mexico; Glasgow Film Festival; Leeds International Film Festival; Borderlines Film Festival, Herefordshire, UK; Fringe Arts Bath; Foyle Film Festival, Londonderry; Locarno, Concorso Internazionale Section; Toronto International Film Festival, Official Section; BFI London Film Festival, First Feature Section; New York Film Festival, Official Selection; American Film Institute Festival, New Auteurs, Los Angeles; Vienna International Film Festival, Vienna, Main Section; CPH:PIX, Copenhagen, Audience Award Section; Miskolc International Film Festival, Hungary, Official Selection; El Gouna, Egypt, Feature Narrative Competition Section; Singapore International Film Festival, Cinema Today Section; Moscow British Film Festival; Vancouver International Festival; Istanbul Filmekini Film Festival; Festival Du Nouveau Cinema, Montreal, Les Nouveaux Alchmistes Section; Thessaloniki Film Festival, Greece, International Competition Section; Festival De Sevilla, International Competition; Lisbon and Sintra International Film Festival, Official Competition Section; Stockholm Film Festival, Impact Competition; Film Festival Cologne, Look Section; Sao Paula Mostra, Brazil, New Film Makers Competition; Umea European Festival, Sweden; Around the World in Fourteen Films, Berlin; Kerala International Film Festival, India, Official World Cinema Section; Pune International Film Festival, India Upon its official UK cinema release (March 2019) Ray & Liz received instant critical acclaim. In the media it was compared to the work of established film directors such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Terence Davies and Alan Clarke. In a five - star review, The Irish Times wrote that it was a "gruelling uncompromising and beautiful movie". The Independent praised it as "unexpectedly moving and touched by grace". The Telegraph described it as a "darkly funny portrait of a Britain that shouldn’t exist". The Guardian hailed it as an "extraordinary family album brought to life". The Times rated 4 out of 5 and wrote: "the authenticity is bracing, the framing and lighting as striking as you'd expect from a photographer". Upon its release in France, monthly magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma rated it film of the month, saying: Ray & Liz is "a haunting piece [...] that conceals the secrets of a solitary childhood". Télérama hailed it as "gorgeous and melancholic". Ray & Liz was nominated for a BAFTA (2019 Best Debut by a writer, director or producer) and was shortlisted for the European Parliaments Lux Film Prize 2019. The film has also been awarded the following prizes: Best Feature Film Award, Subversive Film Festival, Croatia; Grand Prix, Luxembourg City Film Festival; Best Film, Vilnius Film Festival; Jury Prize, TV Broadcasting Rights Award, Brussels International Film Festival; National Film Awards UK Shortlist, Best Director; SIGNIS Award, ADF Cinematography Award and Best Actress, Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema; Best Feature Film 16th Yerevan International Film Festival Armenia; Douglas Hickox Award; IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with the BFI; Special Mention, Locarno Film Festival; Golden Alexander Award, Best Film, Thessaloniki Film Festival; Grand Jury Award, Best Director, Lisbon and Sintra Film Festival; Grand Jury Award, Seville Film Festival; Silver Star Award for Narrative Film, El Gouna Film Festival, Egypt; Best Film & Best Actress, Batumi; Special Mention, Festival Du Nouveau Cinema, Montreal. Internationally Billingham has done over sixty audience Q and As in festivals and cinema screenings in Europe, America, Asia and Australia. So far, the film has distribution by FilmFreak in Benelux, Hugo East in China, Potemkin in France, Noucinemart in Spain, Cineplex in Taiwan, New Wave in UK and Ireland and Kimstin in the USA. The film is on DVD and Blue Ray in both UK and France. The UK DVD also comprises a thirty - minute collection of video excerpts from Billingham’s Zoo series (2003 – 6). The French DVD (English subtitles) has an interview with Billingham about Ray & Liz as well as an extensive overview of Billingham’s work by Art Historian Marion Duquerroy, contextualising the film within Billingham’s entire lens - based practice. Ray & Liz went out on VoD on July 8, (ie - iTunes / Amazon Video /BFI Player/Sky Store + smaller ones, eg, Google Play). It holds 84% on Metacritic, 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1 on IMDB

Item Type: Artefact
Additional Information: Cinema feature film (BAFTA Nominated)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Film; BAFTAs; Lived experience; Cinematic Art
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Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Arts > Photography
Research Priority Areas: Creative Practice as Research
Being Human - Past, Present & Future
Depositing User: Richard Billingham
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2019 15:57
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2019 09:36
URI: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/6709

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