No movie or television show can really speak to what it must have been like to have been my ancestors. But it doesn’t mean we can’t try.Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins’s television series adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad is a 10-hour monument to America’s history of slavery and its modern day reverberations. As Devika Girish poignantly puts it in our cover feature, the series “gives thick, viscous life to stories that, while spinning a fantastical yarn, also serve to fill an absence in our cultural and cinematic record.”
In their wide-ranging conversation, Jenkins discusses the ethics of showing Black trauma on screen, the emotional intensity of creating the series, and rebuilding a history that America has tried to destroy.
Girish also speaks to Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad’s source novel, to hear his thoughts on Jenkins’s interpretation, and composer Nicholas Britell tells James Bells about his principles and inspirations whilst writing the series’ score.
Also in this issue, Hannah McGill examines Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman via cinema‘s lengthy infatuation with the virgin/whore trope, and Anna Bogutskaya speaks to the director about the development of the film and its ‘hyper feminine‘ aesthetic.
Black Bear is a black-comic cabin in the woods drama, starring Aubrey Plaza in a disorienting dual role. Plaza tells Beatrica Loayza about working with writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine, playing an alcoholic, and the film‘s gruelling night shoots.
Extracts from Jay Glennie’s new book Raging Bull: The Making Of explain how Martin Scorsese stumbled across Joe Pesci and dragged him out of early retirement – it’s when Marty met Pesci.
Dea Kulumbegashvili, the director of Beginning, speaks to Jonathan Romney about her existential and explosive debut film and its place within the history of Georgian cinema.
And from our archive, a 1970 interview with legendary Indian director Satyajit Ray, whose centenary falls on 2 May, by Folke Isaksson. We also look back to Ray’s debut Pather Panchali via reflections from the great filmmaker himself.
Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s novel about the flight to freedom of a slave in antebellum America, resonates powerfully in a country still torn apart by the racism that so deeply scars its past. The director talks to Devika Girish about capturing moments of truth, building foundations, and being driven by the desire for justice.
+ Barry Jenkins on the horror of slavery set against the beauty of the landscape
+ Barry Jenkins on the detail of Cora’s okra seeds
+ A journey into sound: Composer Nicholas Britell on the score the The Underground Railroad
Confronting ‘rape culture’ head-on, Promising Young Woman stars Carey Mulligan as a self-styled ‘bad girl’ out to avenge a college-years sexual assault. It’s a fascinating entry, argues Hannah McGill, in cinema’s long, complicated relationship with the virgin/whore trope.
Aubrey Plaza cemented her inscrutable persona on the hit series Parks and Recreation, and uses it to discomfiting effect in Black Bear, which takes an unsettling look behind the scenes of an indie film, and at the abuse of power in the name of creativity. She talks to Beatrice Loayza about the challenges of the shoot, and why she’s really not that hard to read.
“We got like brothers”: Joe Pesi on the making of Raging Bull
Disillusioned with Hollywood, Joe Pesci had given up on acting when a script titled Raging Bull came his way. As Pesci, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese recall in these edited extracts from Raging Bull: The Making Of, a new book by Jay Glennie, the film was the start of a friendship and a creative collaboration that has endured to this day.
Beginning, an enigmatic portrait of a young Georgian woman who is suffering an existential crisis, is by turns mysterious, shocking and icily reserved. Director Dea Kulumbegashvili talks to Jonathan Romney about religion, violence and ecstatic cinema.
+ Fine art: five key Georgian films
+ A long time on the little road by Satyajit Ray
Ray wrote this piece for Sight & Sound‘s Spring 1957 issue, reflecting on the many challenges he faced during the making of his 1955 debut feature, Pather Panchali.
Inside the box
The word is out: non-fungible tokens promise to revolutionise the ways artists, filmmakers included, make money from their work. But then again… By Pamela Hutchinson
+ Chain of fools? A short history of NFTs
Streaming: crossing continents
The streaming service Shasha invites audiences to look at a region whose film traditions have often been ignored in the West. By Thomas Flew
Rising star: Annika Summerson
The Swedish cinematographer of Mogul Mowgli and Censor in profile. By Katie McCabe.
Interview: X-ray vision
Celeste Bell discusses her deeply personal portrait of her mother Marianne Elliott-Said, aka Poly Styrene, frontwoman of X-Ray Spex. By Katie McCabe.
+ Punk rock docs on overlooked acts
Diverse, unclassifiable and formally porous, the selection at the virtual Berlinale 2021 was one of the most exciting yet. By Ela Bittencourt.
Soundings: double act
Screenwriter, actor and composer Amy Nostbakken talks about exploring the boundaries of the female voice in Mouthpiece. By Katie McCabe.
Obituary: Raymond Cauchetier: 1920-2021
His fame came late, but the iconic images of the self-taught photographer helped to define the aesthetic of the nouvelle vague. By Jonathan Romney.
+ A gallery of Cauchetier’s famous photos
How do actors like Daniel Kaluuya and Daisy Edgar-Jones master new accents? Three dialect coaches reveal their secrets. By Nicole Davis.
+ Talking heads: recent film accents rated
The outbreak of World War II saw many UK cinemas shuttered in the same way they have been by Covid. How did film culture fare back then? By Henry K. Miller.
+ Spotlight: programmer Olwen Vaughan
Director Sarah Gavron, chronicler of London with her films Brick Lane, Suffragette and now Rocks, pays tribute to her favourite cinemas in the city.
Primal screen: shadow of a century
The world of 1921 was surprisingly close to our own. Here, we choose 12 films from that year which capture the flavour of the times. By Bryony Dixon and Pamela Hutchinson.
Films of the month
A well-heeled Buenos Aires academic faces a test of her liberal politics in Francisco Marquez’s incisive, mesmerising psychological thriller. Reviewed by Maria Delgado.
Camilo Restrepo’s stunning debut mixes up myth, fantasy and contemporary Colombian social reality to potent effect. Reviewed by Jonathan Romney.
plus reviews of
- Black Bear
- Coming 2 America
- The Drifters
- I Care a Lot
- IWOW I Walk on Water
- My Donkey, My Lover & I
- My Father and Me
- The Night
- Poly Styrene I Am a Cliché
- Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
- Sequin in a Blue Room
- Sisters with Transistors
- Spring Blossom
Television of the month
Reviewed by Nikki Baughan.
plus reviews of
Home cinema features
Kiss the girls: Mädchen in Uniform
The notorious/beloved Weimar drama of girls’-school passion and rebellion looks sharper and more subversive than ever. Reviewed by Phuong Le.
Rediscovery: The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection
Put together an Italian hack director and a washed-up Hollywood star and you get… four rather good gialli. Reviewed by Kim Newman.
Robert Hanks returns to the summer of ’76 with the fly-on-the-wall navy series Sailor.
Lost and Found: The Last Stage
One of the first films about the experience of the Nazi camps is also one of the best: it deserves to be far more widely known. Reviewed by Linda Mannheim.
plus reviews of
- The Criminal Code
- Demons 1 & 2
- The Jewish Soul: Ten Classics of Yiddish Cinema
- Survivor Ballads: Three Films by Shohei Imamura
- I Was at Home, But…
- Romeo Is Bleeding
- Things Change
- Twentieth Century
Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation by Reid Mitenbuler (Black Cat) reviewed by J. Hoberman.
Goodbye Dragon Inn by Nick Pinkerton (Fireflies Press) reviewed by Sukhdev Sandhu
Robert De Niro at work: From Screenplay to Screen Performance by Adam Ganz and Steven Price (Palgrave Macmillan) reviewed by Philip Concannon.
- Dick Arlen, the forgotten man
- A Stunt Man ‘escaped’
- V.F. Perkins: to Victor the spoils
- Too many reviewers…
- Adam Curtis‘s journalistic filmmaking
The cosy finale of the Coens’ great 1996 thriller sees warm domesticity win through against the chilly selfishness of the world outside. By Philip Kemp.
Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more
News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.