Saturday, 9 February 2013

Dreams Of A Life (2011)

I first heard about Carol Morley's docu-film Dreams Of A Life on BBC1's Film 2011. The review instantly caught my attention at first because the recreations starred Zawe Ashton, the beautiful and stylish young actress from Channel 4's Fresh Meat, but then it hooked me in with the story; a true story about Joyce Carol Vincent, a woman whose body lay undiscovered in her bedsit for three year. I was immediately fascinated as to how such a tragedy could be allowed to occur. Sadly because my local cinema is shite, I didn't get to see the film until this week when it received its premiere on Channel 4. Now, having seen it, I know that it is a film that will stay with me.

It's one of my bugbears that we currently live in a dislocated society. Contact and relationships are second hand catered for by third party social networking like Facebook and Twitter. No one seems to make the effort to actively engage with anyone these days and that's worrying, because the more we are less inclined, the more tragedies like Joyce can occur. 

The film depicts one hell of a mystery, still unresolved. A seemingly bright successful and popular woman who collected a host of friendships and relationships from the 80s through to the 90s was allowed to fall through the cracks and effectively disappear, only to reappear as a headline in 2006 when it was reported her skeletal, decomposing body was found in her flat, on her sofa in front of a television set playing out its programmes to nobody, dust covered wrapped Christmas presents lay around her, having never found their receivers.

How could one woman drop off the radar? Not just from friends and family, but from official channels like the electricity board or the council? Unfortunately these are questions that can't fully be answered. Obviously in the case of the latter it's a ridiculous official error but in terms of the former? The film suggests through pieced together information that a violent relationship and some ill health in the late 90s led to a damaged, vulnerable and embarrassed Joyce being unable to regain her place in life, until she simply just faded away.

I guess the film's main message is not just how dislocated society has become, but also how we never really know people, even people we have loved or shared our lives closely with. People have things they want us to know and things they don't want us to know. People have secrets and it seems Joyce may have had more than most. What's telling is the conflicting statements from the people that know here give in the film's many talking heads; She was someone who had no drive, she was someone who had a lot of ambition. She was someone with a great singing voice, Joyce couldn't sing. Even a spoken voice recording of Joyce draws conflicting responses with her first boyfriend Martin (who comes across as a genuinely likeable and loving man who will clearly be haunted forever by the loss of whom he admits was the 'love of his life') claiming the first half of the statement sounds like her, but the second doesn't. Whilst her work colleagues from her last role claim the second part of the statement captures the essence of Joyce. As one person suggests, Joyce was a chameleon. And one can't help but think that we're all essentially like that, offering certain guises or sides of ourselves to whoever we are with at the time. The vast majority of the talking heads depict people who genuinely cared for Joyce and loved her, which makes the manner of her death all the more mystifying, saddening and frustrating. Only one of the interviewees, a black boyfriend called Alistair left me cold, primarily because he seemed to have a beef with Joyce's attitude towards her ethnicity, claiming in a roundabout way that she seemed to not want to be black, and that maybe if she was more true to herself she wouldn't have become so alienated. It's a rather simplistic statement and grossly unfair, and one I imagine that says a little more about his own opinions of ethnicity than it does of hers. It is Alistair who is the charmer that states Joyce couldn't sing, along with the claim that before she went out with him 'she had boyfriends, now she had a man' and that being with him was her 'living the dream', a dream she couldn't allow herself to have. Pass me the bucket!

The recreations that litter the film are handled very well by the aforementioned Zawe Ashton as Joyce, even though she has little more to do than look glam and beautiful or tired and weary, depending on the stages of Joyce's life. I did like some of the directorial touches such as Joyce's 21st, which sees Zawe in a party setting conversing and laughing around a table with no other actors. She is alone. It's a great metaphor for the ultimate isolation of Joyce's all too tragic life. 

I heartily recommend this one, a powerful documentary indeed.


  1. A friend sent me a link to the Guardian article about this and it's quite chilling. I'd quite like to watch the documentary because it fascinates me how someone can just drop out of life like that.

    1. I thoroughly recommend it, seriously its been at the back of my mind since I saw it. It really sticks with you, so tragic and so fascinating. It might be on 4OD as it was on 4 on Wed night?