Fishtank

1998 | 00:46:40 | United Kingdom | English | Color | Mono

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Documentary, European Film/Video, Family, Media Analysis, Photography

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An alcoholic, emaciated father; a grossly obese, tattooed mother; a goofy, hormone-addled brother—all together in a claustrophobic council flat. Welcome to the Billinghams'. Richard Billingham wowed the art scene with his book Ray's A Laugh. Fishtank, his first film, charts the emotional territory of the flat and the family who play out their lives within its confines. Billingham draws on 50 hours of video footage, shot over two years, to provide a mesmerising yet dull home movie of life in his parents British Midlands tower block flat, laying bare their intense relationship for the camera. Sometimes they talk; sometimes they argue; mostly, they drive each other mad. With Groundhog Day regularity, we watch the bickering, the edgy silences and occasional truces. Ray babbles constantly. He coughs to drown out the sound of opening a beer can. "Down the hatch," he says, grinning defiantly. "If you're drinking, Ray, I'll clobber you," comes Liz's voice from the next room. He gets pissed in seconds—Billingham films it all with his handicam. The verite style leaves no room for technical niceties. The camera lingers on Ray's neck, his cavernous nostrils, knotty veins, and sagging skin; follows the path of Liz's eyeliner as it traces the rim of her eye, thickly applying a path of blue.

"One of the highlights of the 90s' British art scene was the work of photographer Richard Billingham, whose brutally honest shots of his family, collected in the book Ray's A Laugh, depict with extraordinary immediacy a near-grotesque domestic life. Fishtank takes us deeper into the lives of the Billingham's and features several wrenching set pieces, including a desultory argument in the boudoir, unintentional stand-up comedy by a drunken Ray, and a sad fly-killing scene."

—New York Video Festival 2000

"It's not my intention to shock, to offend, sensationalise, be political or whatever; only to make work that is as spiritually meaningful as I can make it—whatever the medium."

—Richard Billingham

Exhibitions + Festivals

Fault Lines (Curated by Constance Lewallen), Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco, CA - 2013