Dreams of a Life is Carol Morley’s inventive and affecting documentary about the mysterious circumstances surrounding a woman who lay dead in her flat for three years.
Dreams of a Life is
Carol Morley’s inventive and affecting documentary about the mysterious
circumstances surrounding a woman who lay dead in her flat for three years.
Despite this shocking and morbid tale, newspapers and local officials raised
little attention to what caused Joyce
Carol Vincent to pass away unnoticed and left to rot in her front room
surrounded by half-wrapped Christmas presents, the television still on.
The film has the prototypical talking heads that you come to
expect in documentaries – friends, ex-lovers, colleagues – but where Dreams of
a Life excels and exhilarates is in the dramatic recreation of Joyce’s life.
Don’t expect the sort of “reconstruction” scenes of Crimewatch or Michael
Buerke’s docudrama series 999, rather there is a tasteful amount of
interpretation and imagination. Such was Joyce’s mysteriousness and
unpredictability that these intercutting scenes rely on dramatic re-enactment
as a result of the often contradictory accounts that Morley’s interviewee’s
offer up. The impression cast is that Joyce, despite all of her warmth and
exuberance, was something of an enigma to anyone who crossed her path.
Beautiful and vibrant, yet paradoxically retiring and fragile, there is never a
definitive portrait of Joyce to rely on – in fact at one point there are
differing views on Joyce’s talents as a singer and alternate flashbacks about
what her childhood may have been like.
Almost mythical in their memories of Joyce, each ‘talking
head’ fills the atmosphere with a noirish tinge that is wholly unexpected in a
documentary. Dreams of a Life is filled with the type of unreliable narrators –
of which Joyce is the most unreliable – that wouldn’t be out of place in Billy Wilder’s classic noir Double Indemnity and Morley’s
interweaving of re-enactments serve as a poignant device that blends typical
documentary aesthetics with artistic drama to inspired effect.
Morley’s style is refreshing and the casting of Zawe Ashton as Joyce appears open to
artistic freedoms, a device that stops the film from dragging its feet when
some of the indulgent passages of conspiracy theories and rumours regarding her
death threaten to sensationalise what is a shocking but human story. Apart from
asking questions about Joyce’s life and death, Dreams of a Life also examines
the culpability of society and its failure to alert itself to such a harrowing
Morley has created one of the great documentaries of 2011
with both a keen eye for creative narrative storytelling and an enthusiasm to
ask the questions that so many failed to ask. In a time when the debate about
what is in the public interest rages, the story of Joyce Vincent was left
utterly unnoticed by the press besides a pathetic side column. Dreams of a Life
is so effective because it pursues and uncovers what can only be described as
an incredible story and an extraordinary personality who touched so many lives.
To imagine that the tale of Joyce could have been a stone left unturned is a
worrying thought, a thought that Morley soothes with an exceptional piece of