This essay discusses Richard Billingham's debut feature film, Ray & Liz (2018), through the lens of miserabilism as both an historical art movement and as an endemic feature of British film culture. The film provides both continuity and innovation in Billingham's work, connecting with his 1990s photographs of his family (originally displayed alongside the work of other Young British Artists [YBAs] at the London Sensation exhibition in 1997), and introducing new formal aspects of narrative cinema into his career in the visual arts. Called a “cine-memoir” by Billingham, Ray & Liz portrays incidents from the artist's family's life and his own upbringing near Birmingham, focusing on his father's alcoholism and his parents' loss of custody of Billingham's brother. The film questions many of the assumptions about how poverty is represented in contemporary cinema and challenges the tendencies of miserabilism towards apolitical nihilism on one hand and simplistic message-making on the other.
The Return of Miserabilism: Richard Billingham's Ray & Liz
J. M. Tyree is Associate Director of the Cinema Program at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts). His books include BFI Film Classics: Salesman (British Film Institute/Bloomsbury, 2012) and Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London (Stanford University Press, 2016). He is a Contributing Editor at Film Quarterly and a Nonfiction Editor at New England Review.
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J. M. Tyree; The Return of Miserabilism: Richard Billingham's Ray & Liz. Film Quarterly 1 September 2019; 73 (1): 33–41. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2019.73.1.33
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