Dreams Of A Life couldn't have been released at a better time of year, the documentary did the festival circuit late last year and eventually went nation wide this month. Its subject is the death of life long Londoner Joyce Vincent who died at home wrapping Christmas presents in 2003 and wasn't found until three years later, still with the television on! Her body was so badly decomposed she could only be identified through dental records and a holiday picture of her smiling. Joyce's death eventually received a very small column in newspapers without even a photograph to show what this tragic and beautiful woman looked like. They papers knew nothing about the woman at the centre of this unbelievable case but now reporters should take notes because Carol Morley plays detective and unearths whatever obtainable truths there are.
Morley played investigator for three years and spent a further year filming her documentary on this scarring and unique story. People who knew Joyce at different points in her life are all interviewed separately giving their own personal take on her; some of the information adds up and some of the testimonials clash and are contradicting but as time goes on and multiple people remember a person, does the total of their memories add up to make the truth of a life? Not even close, and like the timeless Citizen Kane (1941) that's what makes this film so effecting.
Of course the film starts with same questions everyone already has in their minds, the questions that need answering; questions such as how can a modern women die and not be found for three years? How come family and friends did nothing to locate her? Why wasn't the council involved as soon as she stopped paying bills and tax? And as the film divulges into these areas we learn from those who knew her what an attractive and bright woman Joyce was, a stunning person full of life but also greatly humble. The kind that turned both the heads of men and women with the way she looked and moved. How can someone so highly thought of, so kind and vibrant be forgotten in our age of endless communication? With Joyce as an example perhaps we are all tinkering on the edge, only one step from falling off the map. As the documentary gets as far as it can into painting an accurate picture of who the mysterious Joyce Vincent was we realise just how troubled and flawed a character she was; that she did her part in driving people away whether she knew it or not. Past trauma in her family is hinted at but only Joyce can answer for how she lived her final years on Earth and what caused her to be so detached. This however does not answer for society's failings upon this person either before or after they have died.
Many dramatic scenes are acted out to show moments from Joyce's life and to add a spark into a documentary that has tried so very hard to learn what was once thought as unobtainable information. Some may find these scenes as jarring and forced but they are necessary in a story that is painting the best picture of this tragic women's life. Director Carol Morley shoots both a documentary and a staged drama in one feature and does a spectacular job in both areas.
Dreams Of A Life is a chilling and emotionally devastating piece of film that is also a very important statement about our modern system and the breakdown of community. It is both a character study and a documentary as well as a cautionary tale about the way we lead our lives. You won't be shaking this one off in a hurry no matter how hard you try. It's just sad to think that if it weren't for Carol Morley's investigation no one would know the minutest detail about this women who should be a reminder to us all to return those calls and to look out for one another.