More TV please: David Thomson sings the praises of binging.
Plus Ali Abbasi’s Swedish folkloric fable Border, Ralph Fiennes’s Nureyev portrait The White Crow, Richard Billingham’s Black Country memoir Ray & Liz, and female noir in and beyond Carol Morley’s Out of Blue.
To binge or not to binge? That is one of the key questions of our lives today – at least when we’re sofa-bound at the end of the day. Splurging on TV series has taken over how we consume moving images. And who has the willpower to resist the next episode countdown?
Sight & Sound’s cover feature has a surprise in store for you: an unapologetic convert to team binge is cinephile David Thomson, who in this issue sings the praises of devouring TV series over (gasp) the rarefied big-screen experience. The compulsive, rapturous thrall in which TV shows hold us is something to be celebrated, and the mark of a new age, he argues. He charts his relationship with the thrills of streaming from Breaking Bad to Babylon Berlin, comparing the fervour he feels for them now with his passion for movie-going in South London in the 1940s.
We’re betting you won’t see a stranger film in cinemas this month than the Swedish folkloric fable Border, about a customs officer with preternaturally acute senses. Jonathan Romney talks to Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi about his hugely inventive, barely categorisable feature and the complex issues about identity at its heart.
On the occasion of Ralph Fiennes’s portrait of Soviet dancer Rudolf Nureyev The White Crow, David Thompson explores films that place ballet centre stage. Taking his subject seriously, Fiennes employed former Royal Ballet principal Johan Kobborg as his advisor and cast a real dancer, Oleg Ivenko, as Nureyev. As a result, The White Crow never shies away from underlining the sweat and toil of the classical dance world. Thompson journeys back to cinema’s early days and highlights the directors and their films – from Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) to Herbert Ross’s The Turning Point (1977) – who respected ballet and found new ways of deploying cinema’s toolkit to capture it.
Putting a twist on kitchen sink social realism – British cinema’s bread and butter – is photographer turned filmmaker Richard Billingham’s first feature Ray & Liz. The autobiographical film is a finely textured, unsentimental portrait of working-class life in the Black Country, exploring the director’s memories of the hardships and isolation of his childhood and his parents’ lives. “I tried to avoid the tropes and clichés and generalisations of working-class portrayals” says Billingham, talking to Adam Scovell this month. “I shot as much as possible from lived experience to give it a different perspective on that British story.”
Carol Morley’s new neo-noir Out of Blue, about a New Orleans cop investigating the murder of renowned astrophysicist, gave us the perfect excuse to muse on the female sleuth. Imogen Sara Smith investigates women solving mysteries on screen and traces a long history of lady detectives from those little old ladies “who view corpses as agreeable diversions on a par with Sunday crossword puzzle” to those who do double duty as intrepid heroine and woman in peril. More recently, with The Silence of the Lambs’s Clarice Starling and Top of the Lake’s Robin Griffin, she identifies a trend of female detectives with troubled pasts. Alongside, Nick James talks to Morley about her meditative and dreamlike adaptation of the Martin Amis novel Night Train.
Our Reviews section covers all the latest important releases, including deep dives into Lukas Dhont’s Girl, controversial for Dhont’s casting of a cis-gendered actor in this coming of age tale of a trans ballerina, and David Robert Mitchell’s Hollywood mystery Under the Silver Lake. Other films reviewed include Steven Soderbergh’s Netflix basketball drama High Flying Bird, the skate documentary Minding the Gap and Asghar Farhadi’s kidnap drama Everybody Knows.
Our Books pages interrogate three new biographies: of the underrated MGM master Clarence Brown, Hollywood star Vivien Leigh and the screenwriter Ben Hecht.
Turn to our Home Cinema pages for an exploration of cinema as archaeology in Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time and Ross Lipman’s Notfilm plus a consideration of Nakata Hideo’s J-Horror classic Ring 20 years after its first release.
That’s not quite all folks: elsewhere Ken Loach details his favourite cinema, the fiercely independent Phoenix in East Finchley; Pamela Hutchinson explores the heyday of the American film serial; Nick James surveys the hits and misses from the Berlinale and Kieron Corless reports from Rotterdam; Thirza Wakefield pays tribute to Albert Finney and Jamie Dunn unpicks how Arthur Penn’s Night Moves captures the uncertainty of the Watergate era.