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Dreams of Life

Londoner Joyce Vincent died in front of her television in December 2003, but her body was not discovered until 2006. Documentarian Carol Morley asks how this could happen.
Dreams of Life
Most would hope that when their time comes, their loved ones would bear witness to their final moments. Or, if the end approaches in the loneliness of their home, that someone would notice. When Joyce Vincent passed away in front of her television in December 2003, the conclusion of her life was not mourned, nor did her absence cause concern among her friends and family. Instead, her decomposing body remained in her North London bedsit until 2006, when it was found by council officials seeking overdue rent.

The question of how a 38 year old woman’s demise could escape attention for more than two years drove documentarian Carol Morley (The Alcohol Years) into action. Even as Joyce’s story made international headlines, inciting condemnation of the circumstances surrounding her delayed discovery, few details about her life or death were provided. Newspaper reports decried the lack of information about Joyce’s background, and were unable to include a photo. Yet Morley was determined to uncover the truth. Dreams of a Life is her response.

Classified advertisements in print and on the sides of taxis gave the filmmaker the first leads in her quest for answers. People who once knew Joyce – ex-boyfriend and confidante Martin, musician and previous landlord Kirk, and tour manager and former lover Alistair – were revealed, each telling their own piece of her story. With their assistance, Morley was able to locate further friends and colleagues, and ascertain more about Joyce’s outgoing but reticent character. Alas, the more information gained, the more evident it became that for all those who knew and loved Joyce, no one really knew very much about her.

Adopting the Errol Morris approach of exploring her subject through direct-to-camera discussions with those familiar with Joyce or her case (including journalists), with each providing another revelatory piece of the puzzle, Morley attempts to compose a portrait of Joyce Vincent’s life. As her interviewees share their recollections and estimations of Joyce’s existence, the director weaves in re-creations of key events – Joyce’s childhood, relationships, and the discovery of her body – to give shape to the mystery woman.

That Morley’s aspirational efforts are met with mixed success may be indicative of the few solid facts at her disposal, or emblematic of ineffective execution marring otherwise riveting content. As a result, Dreams of a Life remains an ambitious project, affecting in its tribute to someone lost to society, but trying in its docu-drama presentation.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Dreams of a Life
Director: Carol Morley
UK, 2011, 90 min

In limited release
ACMI, Melbourne
Rated PG

Sarah Ward

Friday 21 September, 2012

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay