Ray & Liz, the devastating feature debut in shades of grey by Richard Billingham, is based on earlier video work and the beautiful photo book Ray’s a Laugh (1996) by the British artist/photographer. Within an oppressive frame, Billingham reconstructs three episodes from his childhood in the depressing tenements outside Birmingham in the era of Margaret Thatcher.
His father Raymond is a chronic alcoholic who barely goes outside and usually drinks his own home-made hooch. Mother Liz is a tattooed, chain-smoking mass of flesh who pummels Ray’s head and occasionally does a jigsaw puzzle. Richard and his brother Jason watch wide-eyed. Yet despite all the poverty and disconsolate atmosphere, there’s also beauty in Billingham’s meticulous recording of memories without sentiment and he shows – on occasions – compassion for his nearest and dearest. This autobiographical gem has won awards in Locarno, Montreal and Thessaloniki.