Sight and Sound: the September 2023 issue

In this packed (pink) issue: Barbie and the art of contradictions – the science of Oppenheimer – acting in the age of AI Plus: Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things – David Thomson on Cormac McCarthy – Pedro Almodóvar at the movies – David Meeker on 2001: A Space Odyssey – Hollywood on Strike!

Sight and Sound: the September 2023 issue

“You could get whiplash reading the trades as this issue went to press. One column announced that the simultaneous release of Barbie and Oppenheimer resulted in record-breaking revenues, chalking up the fourth-biggest box-office weekend ever. Other stories documented the shuttering of film sets and studios pulling their most anticipated films from the theatrical schedules. Just when audiences had remembered why they loved going to the pictures, the coming attractions were beginning to vanish.” So writes Pamela Hutchinson in her insightful opening story on Sag-Aftra and WAG’s strikes.

We decide to have our cake and eat it, devoting this issue to both of the summer’s biggest stories. In her cover feature, Hannah McGill argues that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is a sharp, funny film with a lot to say about feminism and patriarchy. Completing the ‘Barbenheimer’ double bill is physicist George Iskander, who grapples with Oppenheimer’s legacy and the questions raised by Christopher Nolan’s film of the same name. Meanwhile, alongside Hutchinson’s exploration of the strikes is Dominic Lees on acting in the age of AI; he speaks to leading industry figures, including actor and producer Natasha Lyonne.

Elsewhere in a packed issue: Thomas Flew reports from the set of Yorgos Lanthimos’s most visually extravagent film yet, Poor Things; Maria Delgado takes a trip to the movies with Pedro Almodóvar; David Thomson explores the cinematic legacy of Cormac McCarthy; and a new series of recollections by the late BFI film archivist David Meeker recalls an encounter with Stanley Kubrick.


Hello, dolly!

Hello, dolly!

While it might be easy to dismiss Greta Gerwig’s Barbie as a cynical corporate effort to justify an extended advert, this sharp, funny film has a lot to say about feminism, patriarchy and the gap between real and illusory female empowerment. Who says art can’t exist with contradictions, writes Hannah McGill.

The view from ground zero

The view from ground zero

As a physicist working across the street from the Manhattan Project’s atomic breakthrough site in Chicago, George Iskander grapples with J. Robert Oppenheimer’s legacy and the questions raised every day by Christopher Nolan’s film.

Attack of the clones

Attack of the clones

Many actors involved in the current Hollywood strike have argued that artificial intelligence will allow actors’ images to be exploited in future productions without their permission and without them ever walking on set. Are their concerns justified? By Dominic Lees

+ Russian Doll star Natasha Lyonne on AI and the actors’ strike

+ Love artificially: Spike Jonze’s Her in the age of chatbots

Things to come

Things to come

Poor Things is the most visually extravagant film Yorgos Lanthimos has made so far, and creating the baroque world in which it takes place was a huge technical and imaginative challenge. Thomas Flew reports from the set.

No country for old cinema

No country for old cinema

With the exception of the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy was ill-served by film adaptations. On the occasion of McCarthy’s death, David Thomson asks whether cinema is up to the task of literary adaptation or whether the medium’s immediacy impedes the imagination too much.

A print odyssey

A print odyssey

The film archivist David Meeker, who died in May, spent almost 40 years at the BFI, overseeing the restoration of numerous classics and working with a host of legendary directors. In the first of a new series of his recollections, introduced by film historian Kevin Brownlow, he describes the unenviable task of trying to strike a new print of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with the notoriously exacting director watching over him.

At the movies with… Pedro Almodóvar

At the movies with… Pedro Almodóvar

As the Spanish director’s latest film, the short western Strange Way of Life, arrives in British cinemas for one night only, he discusses the central role cinema has played in his life and work, the films that touched him growing up, his changing tastes and the recent works by young Spanish filmmakers that have impressed him. Introduction and interview by Maria Delgado.

Big Granny and Little Eden

From the archive: Big Granny and Little Eden

As Andrew Kötting’s masterpiece Gallivant is released on Blu-ray by the BFI, we revisit this fascinating piece by Iain Sinclair exploring the ways in which the film breathed new life into the moribund British road movie.

Opening scenes

Opening scenes

State of the unions

The story of the summer isn’t Barbenheimer: it’s the dual actor and writer strikes that have ground Hollywood to a halt, with no agreement forthcoming on AI, wages, writers’ rooms, image rights and more. By Pamela Hutchinson.

In production: The Ghost Cat’s meow

Ghost Cat Anzu, a French-Japanese film about the friendship between a feline spirit and a young girl, seen here in exclusive images, is set to come out next year. By Thomas Flew.

In conversation: Christian Petzold

Now seeming prescient in a summer when fires have raged in Europe, the German director’s latest film Afire puts a couple in peril and forces them closer together. Interview by Savina Petkova.

Obituary: Derek Malcolm, 1932-2023

Few film critics achieve near-celebrity status, but from the 1970s to the late 90s almost anyone in Britain who was interested in films – particularly foreign-language films – read Derek Malcolm, who has died at the age of 91, in the Guardian. By Nick James.

Ousmane Sembène: A Tribute

One hundred years after the pioneering Senegalese filmmaker was born, and as a season of his films runs at BFI Southbank, two of his artistic heirs, Imruh Bakari and Amanda Egbe, reflect on his legacy.

Festival: Il cinema ritrovato, Bologna

The annual celebration of archive film in northern Italy offered rarities from Japan, Iran and Hollywood. By Philip Concannon.

Report: The Modi blues

A wave of Indian documentaries is making a stand against the country’s increasingly repressive government. By Isabel Stevens.

News: The happy return of EIFF

When Edinburgh International Film Festival’s managing charity went into administration in October 2022, it looked as though the EIFF was no more. But hopeful news came in March this year, when a one-off edition was announced. By Thomas Flew.



The long take

Anonymous, uncredited and hiding in plain sight: in praise of film extras. By Pamela Hutchinson.

TV eye

Steeped in the tensions of race, place and identity, Mystery Road: Origin is a revelation. By Andrew Male.

Poll position

The Greatest Films poll hints at a critical shift towards the post-historical, multiversal and subjective. By Kevin B. Lee.

Flick lit

The film of Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat is a wild, baffling trip that’s well worth taking. By Nicole Flattery.




Who are the baddies in the Hollywood strikes? You don’t need AI to tell you. By Mike Williams.

Rediscovery: Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in Three Mafia Tales

The fraught political atmosphere of 70s Italy, coloured by corruption, terrorism and organised crime, spawned some fascinating films that are only now getting released over here. By Henry K. Miller.

Archive TV: Network Distributing

Farewell to one of the most enterprising DVD and Blu-ray labels – responsible for thousands of releases of British TV – which went bust earlier this year. By Robert Hanks.

Lost and found: So That You Can Live

A documentary portrait of working-class life in the Valleys of South Wales raises questions about whose perspectives we get to see. Becca Voelcker.

Wider screen

Wider screen

Southern discomfort: on the road with James Baldwin

The great American writer’s six-week journey across the US exploring the legacy of the civil rights movement in the South was captured in a fine but little-seen 1982 documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine. By Sukhdev Sandhu.

Margaret Tait: places in the heart

Luke Fowler’s experimental portrait Being in a Place offers a poetic exploration of the Scottish filmmaker through the beautiful, rugged terrain of her beloved Orkney. By Pamela Hutchinson.

Endings: Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

The punitive gaze of the camera in the final moments of Otto Preminger’s morality tale about the recklessness of youth is undercut by an unexpected moment of directorial sympathy. By Annabel Bai Jackson.




Our critics review: Passages, Barbie, Oppenheimer, Fragments of Paradise, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, Medusa, Lie with Me, Scrapper, Afire, L’immensità, Kokomo City, The Blackening, Stephen King on Screen, The Dive, You Hurt My Feelings, Feathers, Bobi Wine: The People’s President, Klokkenluider, The Innocent, Past Lives.

DVD and Blu-ray

Our critics review: Western Approaches, Miami Blues, Thieves Like Us, The Song of Songs, Red Sun, Thunderbolt, Gallivant, Fists in the Pocket, The Driver’s Seat, The Circus Tent.


Our critics review: Cinema’s Original Sin, The Cinema of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, Connecticut.