RAY is about addiction and control. Alcohol makes Ray a prisoner in his own bedroom. Liz arrives periodically, for money. Sid and Liz battle for control of Ray, Sid with alcohol and Liz with the lure of being reunited.
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
6 June - 18 July 2015
Album de Família, Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro
4 August - 19 September 2015
Embodied, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen
5-29 November 2015
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
Director: Richard Billingham
Producer: Jacqui Davies
Director of Photography: Daniel Landin BSC
Ray: Patrick Romer
Liz: Deirdre Kelly
Sid: Richard Ashton
Single screen HD video, 5.1 surround sound, 33min, looped
Extract from ‘Figure in a Room – Ray: a film by Richard Billingham’
Kieran Cashell, 2015
In his room, Ray sits on the edge of the bed facing the silvered oval of the dresser’s mirror. Flicking the dregs from his glass onto the floor, he pours himself a drink. Taking care to fill the glass right to the brim, he drinks … and drinks again. His drinking is methodical, autonomic, and compulsive. Silence in the room is broken by the sound of swallowing. Once the drained glass is placed back on the dresser with a soft knock, it is refilled. Extreme close-ups punctuate this parsimonious yet strangely hypnotic action: ‘Occasionally, the rhythmic movements of the animals become almost pleasurable to watch’ Hansen had observed of Zoo (2007, 31) and here the cinematic grammar is similar to (but perhaps not as extreme as) Fishtank: we witness the camera detach from diegetic procedure and begin its almost sentient exploratory work: scrutinising the cutaneous creases and porous folds of Ray’s skin, for instance, almost as if trying to itemise the tiny white bristles into abeyant directional patterns.
Ultimately, Ray’s room, represents such a hermetically closed construct within which the character’s basic existential predicament is dramatized (as the “acquired inability to escape”), a space where we can confront the ‘basic problem of being’ through observing the figure suspended therein (Esslin 1980, 262). Pinter claimed that these basic constructs of theatre (such as figure in a room) enabled him to deal with the facticity of characters ‘at the extreme edge of their living, where they are living pretty much alone’ (Pinter in 1980, 262). Yet the difference here – and it should be regarded as a crucial and poignant difference – is that we know Billingham’s film is not fictional: Ray, that is, cannot be reduced to a dramatic character. Reasserting itself precisely as a representation at this point, what Billingham’s film represents, disturbingly, is a piece of pre-cinematic, factual, extra-photographic empirical reality. We may not like to admit this: but the only reference this film ultimately makes is to what has been exposed in Ray’s a Laugh and in the video footage of Fishtank. I don’t believe it is possible to achieve any narrative closure with this material. If the film relates both structurally and thematically to the tradition of the Absurd this may be because there is no plot, no final purpose, no resolution. And yet this is only because any representation of Ray’s life must necessarily lack these regulative constructs.
In Ray Richard Billingham has created a picture that holds us captive (Wittgenstein §115): we are here, in other words, captivated by someone’s captivity. But ultimately his intention is not to represent a life as it actually was, but rather, as Benjamin remarked of Proust, to acknowledge a life as remembered by one who actually lived it. His film thus signals a radical 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). He achieves an unprecedented combination of controlled forensic detachment and respectful sensitivity that manages to secure Ray’s dignity. Very little, indeed, almost nothing happens in Billingham’s film. But that’s not the point: in life too, sometimes, very little (almost nothing) happens.
Project supported by:
Arts Council Wales
Arts Council England
University of Gloucestershire
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery