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

Billingham, Richard ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6474-5656 (2018) Ray & Liz, feature film for cinema, broadcast, DVD and online formats. [Film/Video]


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 DoP Daniel Landin. Its festival debut was in Locarno Aug 2018 and its UK cinema release was 8thMarch 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’. A 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 from the ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ body of work. 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 film’s 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 Borderlines Film Festival Herefordshire UK; Las Vegas Film Festival (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; Prague International Film Festival; Febiofest (Panorama Section); Tallin Black Nights International Film Festival (Forum Section); Festival of Buenos Aires (International Competition); Jeonju Film FestivalSouth Korea (Debut Film Maker’s Section); European First Film Festival of Angers (European First Feature Film Section); International Film Festival Rotterdam (Bright Future Section); Bergamo Film Meeting (International Competition); FILMADRID;D’A Film Festival Barcelona Spain; 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 Los Angeles (New Auteurs); 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 Festival; Moscow British Film Festival; Vancouver International Festival; Istanbul International Film Festival; Festival Du Nouveau Cinema, Montreal (Les Nouveaux Alchmistes Section); Thessaloniki Film Festival Greece (International Competition Section); Festival De Sevilla; 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;Melbourne Film Festival Australia (International Panorama); New Horizons Wroclaw Poland (International Competition)

Ray & Liz was also nominated for a BAFTA (2019 Best Debut by a writer, director or producer) and has been awarded The Grand Prix Luxembourg City Film Festival; Best Film, Vilnius Film Festival; Signis Award, ADF Cinematography Award and Best Actress Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema; Douglas Hickox Award Best Debut Director British Independent Film Awards; IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with the BFI; Special MentionLocarno 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 International Art House Film Festival and Special Mention Festival Du Nouveau Cinema Montreal.

In terms of impact and audience engagement, Billingham has done many audience Q and As about the film internationally in festivals and cinema screenings includingICA London; MAC Birmingham; Chapter House Cardiff; Watershed Bristol; Home, Manchester; Quad Derby; BFI Southbank; Borderlines Film Festival Herefordshire, Luxembourg City Film Festival; Vilnius International Film Festival Lithuania; Ficuman Mexico; Dublin International Film Festival; Jeonju Film FestivalSouth Korea; European First Film Festival of Angers; International Film Festival Rotterdam; Bergamo Film Meeting Italy; FILMADRID; D’A Film Festival Barcelona, Spain; Locarno Film Festival; Toronto International Film Festival; BFI London Film Festival; New York Film Festival; Vienna International Film Festival; Festival De Sevilla; Lisbon and Sintra International Film Festival; Stockholm Film Festival; Around the World in Fourteen Films Berlin; Transilvania International Film Festival; Melbourne Film Festival Australia; New Horizons Wroclaw Poland etc.

So far, the film has distribution in byFilmFreak 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. DVD release, broadcast and online platform dates TBC.

The film has been extensively reviewed by top critics such as Guy Lodge, Peter Bradshaw, Leslie Felperinand Chris Waywell. It holds 84% on Metacritic, 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1 on IMDB

Item Type: Film/Video
Additional Information: Director and Writer: Richard Billingham
Research Areas: A. > School of Health and Education > Education > Interpreting and Translation group
Item ID: 26467
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Richard Billingham
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2019 09:33
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2020 07:43
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/26467

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