Dreams of a Life
Dreams of a Life
Image: Dogwoof via image.net

Film Review

Film title
Dreams of a Life
Director
Carol Morley
Starring
Zawe Ashton
Release date
16 Dec
Certificate
12A

More info

Dreams of a Life is released 16 Dec by Dogwoof dreamsofalife.com

Dreams of a Life

2/5 stars
Film review by Jamie Dunn.
Published 12 December 2011

On 25 January, 2006, the remains of Joyce Vincent, a 38-year-old former secretary, were found slumped on the couch of her London flat, the telly still blaring; she had died December 2003. No missing persons reports had been filed in the three years her body lay there. On reading the story, Carol Morley (Edge) began a search for the people closest to Vincent to discover how this young woman was forgotten.

It’s an admirable project, but Morley’s resulting documentary, Dreams of a Life, which blends speculative reconstructions of Vincent’s last days (Fresh Meat's Zawe Ashton acts as stand-in) with gossipy talking head interviews with former lovers, co-workers and flatmates, makes for queazy viewing. By giving these (mostly) rubberneckers a mouthpiece, Morley exposes the racism, sexism and classism that blighted Vincent, an attractive woman from a working class West-Indies background, but it’s at the expense of the dignity of this very private person who in the end chose solitude over the company of Morley's ghastly interviewees. [Jamie Dunn]

Comments (17)

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  • Mmmmmmmmm interesting review dignity what dignity? She did not die with dignity at all! She was found dead as a skelton after three years, no- one had missed her, and had to be identified by dental records!
    Sadness and loneleness is how she died and the fact that she was a "private person" so private in fact with no one that knew about her or cared including her four sisters or "so called friends fair weather friends" could have been her downfall as perhaps she had too much solitude; wheather this was her choice or not no-one will ever know.
    No man nor women is an island.

    Posted by Cat | Monday 12 December 2011 @ 13:05

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  • You seem to be implying, Cat, that lonely people have no dignity. You also seem to think that if someone dies in unusual circumstances filmmakers should have carte blanche to make films about him/her.

    The reason I found this voyeuristic film so distasteful is that it relies entirely on supposition. As you say, no-one -- at least none of Morley's interviewees -- knows why Joyce ended up alone. Yet Morley invites Joyce's former friends to have a stab in the dark. One of them suggest she was murdered, another thinks she was abused as a child, one brags about the opportunities he had to sleep with her. Morley's reconstructions are equally dubious. They show Joyce as a depressed zombie wistfully staring into the abyss but who's to say she wasn't happy in her solitude? Including gossip and hearsay such as this is not only in bad taste but it's bad filmmaking.

    I hope I never find myself in the same position as Joyce, but if I do I hope that a filmmaker doesn't come along and wheel out my vague acquaintances and former partners to have a good old gossip about where it all went wrong for me.

    Posted by Jamie Dunn | Monday 12 December 2011 @ 19:17

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  • I completely disagree with this reductive review on so many levels. It's probably easiest if anyone who's interested listens to this review that Gail Tolley and I did for BBC Radio Scotland's The Movie Cafe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b0183jlh [Jump to 25:20]

    Posted by Nigel Floyd | Thursday 15 December 2011 @ 16:53

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  • Other opinions are certainly available, Nigel. I'll try and catch what you and Gail -- formerly of this parish -- had to say on iPlayer

    Posted by Jamie Dunn | Thursday 15 December 2011 @ 23:04

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  • I haven't seen the film nor the trailer, I've only heard of the story so I can't comment on whether the documentary is indeed as voyeuristic and sleazy as Jamie says it is, but s/he has a point. Being private and dying in solitude doesn't justify having aspects of your life exposed that you didn't consent to being exposed in the aftermath of your death. If heaven forbid, I am to end up like Joyce and some filmmaker drawing pity on my situation comes along, I'd hope they'd carefully weigh the pros and cons to doing such a thing, and go about it in the most respectful, non-intrusive manner. It's one thing to dig up personal details of a deceased person if they happened to be famous in life, after all they chose that path and knew what it would entail. But a person who goes out of their way to remain private all their lives doesn't deserve having their right to privacy reversed after their deaths. They may no longer be here, but their memory still merits respect and dignity.

    Posted by Amy | Sunday 18 December 2011 @ 06:54

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  • Apologies for the occasionally spotty grammar in my comment, it's late at night where I live.

    Posted by Amy | Sunday 18 December 2011 @ 06:56

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  • All cinematography is by definition voyeuristic, you pay for your ticket walk in and sit down. What appears on the screen before you, be it fact, fiction or interpreted is the story of peoples/characters lives and situations, you have become the voyeur in their story. Without this there would be no film industry.

    Morley spent five years researching the film and piecing together Joyces' life from the snippets of information gained. What you get is an interpretation of that life from the accounts available, it is no more or less valid than your assumptions about her life. Indeed having spent so many years on the project you could argue that her insight is greater.

    To resort to insults "ghastly interviewees" of the people featured in this film seems to me to be a crass positiom to take. Several important characters declined to participate in the film and to her credit Morley respects their wishes, I doubt there was any legal compuction to do so and the film may of suffered slightly as a result, but those that do speak give frank and often heartfelt opinions as to their relationship with Joyce. You may not like what they say or how they say it, but nevertheless what remains is a powerful and thought provoking work that left me wondering just how many of my past friends and aquaintances would I now not have a clue as to whether they were alive or dead. The answer is most of them, and it's a long list.

    Posted by Richard | Wednesday 21 December 2011 @ 13:10

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  • “All cinematography is by definition voyeuristic...” Cheers for this patronising observation, Richard. I do know that going to the pictures involves the art of watching. But if all cinematography is, as you say, voyeuristic, then you must admit that some cinematography is more voyeuristic than others. And the degree to how voyeuristic a film is is down to the director and his/her choice of camera shots. Surely you would agree that the cinema of, say, Hitchcock is more voyeuristic than the cinema of Ozu, for example. Morley designed her reconstructions to be “fly-on-the-wall” -- as if we are spying on Joyce’s life. That is why I described the film in those terms.

    “What you get is an interpretation of that life from the accounts available...” Again, Richard, you have removed the director from the equation. What we get is the accounts Morley was able and, most importantly, chose to show us. She chose to leave in an interviewee's accusation that Joyce was abused as a child -- a ridiculous piece of Freud 101 on his part that Morley should have left on the cutting room floor.

    Morley also leaves out loads of info. This is to be expected, of course, she only has 100 minutes of so to tell the story and, like you say, she researched for five-years so I’m sure there’s loads of stuff that didn’t make it into the film. But, the information she chose to leave out is telling. For example, when several characters ask Morley on camera, “Why didn’t the family try to find her?”, Morley doesn’t answer their question -- or at least she hasn’t put her answer in the film. I believe she should have, because the fact is that the family did try to track Joyce down -- they hired a private investigator to look for her. See Morley’s interview with Dave Calhoun in Time Out: http://www.timeout.com/london/feature/2013/interview-carol-morley-on-dreams-of-a-life

    “Several important characters declined to participate in the film and to her credit Morley respects their wishes, I doubt there was any legal compuction to do so and the film may of suffered slightly as a result, but those that do speak give frank and often heartfelt opinions as to their relationship with Joyce.” I’m no lawyer, Richard, but I’m pretty sure a filmmaker can’t force you to be in his/her film, so congratulating Morley for not including people who declined to participate seems a bit generous to me. Also, the family didn’t want the film to be made at all (again, see the Time Out interview), so Morley has hardly “respected their wishes.”

    My objections to the film were mostly ethical -- although I’d also say it falls down as a piece of journalism, given that there are so many unanswered questions, and as a piece of cinema, as those reconstructions are pretty ropey, in my opinion. Joyce’s story is certainly a powerful and moving one, I just found this telling of it unpleasant.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it though and if it helps you reconnect with friends you’ve drifted apart from then the film should be commended for that at least.

    Posted by Jamie Dunn | Wednesday 21 December 2011 @ 22:26

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  • Thanks for your reply.

    Yes there are degrees of voyeurism, but surely you must agree that what is overly voyeuristic to some is perfectly o.k to others, as such the criticism becomes a case of your own personal taste rather than a genuine flaw in the film. As you admit your objections are mainly ethical, but who are you to impose your ethical views on others (filmakers).

    The "interpretation of a life" is Morleys interpretation clearly, so I do not see how you can say I have "removed the director from the equation"

    I was well aware that the family tried to trace Joyce, and I will agree that the information left out of the film is as telling as the information within. I'm not privy to the reason for these omissions you would have to ask Morley, but I don't think Morley set out to provide us with all the answers in anycase. It was meant to be more of a comment on the social aspects of modern life.

    Posted by Richard | Thursday 22 December 2011 @ 22:44

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  • P.S. As you are well aware Morley arranged a private screening for family members before the film went to general release. Presumably if there were any vehement objections she would of made the neccessary adjustments.

    Posted by Richard | Thursday 22 December 2011 @ 23:10

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  • "who are you to impose your ethical views on others"

    Pull the other one, Richard. Making a judgement based on one's own ethics does not equal "imposing your ethical views on others" and to suggest so is insulting. It's Jamie's critical imperative to make exactly these kinds of judgement calls based on his own experience and understanding. Otherwise he might as well have just printed the press release.

    Posted by Shukla | Friday 23 December 2011 @ 00:41

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  • Shukla

    Maybe you are correct but it is a thin line. In a way this is one of the points the film attempts to make, we are all guilty from time to time of forming judgemental opinions of others based on our own views, when the reality is something different.

    However as Jamie has said "other opinions are certainly available" and as the film seems to of been generally well received, I will leave it at that.

    Posted by Richard | Friday 23 December 2011 @ 09:01

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  • “...guilty from time to time of forming judgemental opinions of others based on our own views, when the reality is something different.”

    “...but who are you to impose your ethical views on others (filmakers).”

    “...but surely you must agree that what is overly voyeuristic to some is perfectly o.k to others, as such the criticism becomes a case of your own personal taste rather than a genuine flaw in the film.”

    From the comments you’ve made above, Richard, it sounds like you’re not interested in reading reviews that are in any way idiosyncratic. Criticism is subjective: there are some objective truths you can include in your review –- run time, who directed it, where it's set, plot details etc. -- but the rest is your individual response to the material. There’s always rottentomatoes.com if you want the general consensus. Personally, I much prefer to read reviews from individual critics with their own takes on things, even if I disagree with their views.

    Carol Morley actually contacted me on twitter when I tweeted about the above review. She said: “The power of film is to create reactions like yours! Means that it is doing something! Provoking...” I’m glad Morley can see the bigger picture.

    I look forward to whatever she does next. Hope you’ll be back then to leave your thoughts

    Posted by Jamie Dunn | Saturday 24 December 2011 @ 11:31

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  • Wow! You folks are so hostile!
    Some of the premise behind the comments are viable.
    I am much older than Joyce was, but now find myself alone with my dogs, and many days, no one checks on me. I do not have any living realitives, but do haev a lot of 'friendly aquaintances" (not friends, exactly.)
    This gave me thought as to my situation. I DO like being by myself at home, but fell down my stairs a year ago, and sustained very serious injuries. I waited several hours to get up the stairs where there was a phone, to call for help.
    I, unlike Joyce, have had a very interesting life, but one others know little about. I appear to be a very gregarious person. I DO find it very curious why her sisters werent in contact, or why there is so little input from them.
    I can see both sides of these comments, but I'm not sure I wolud want someone that hadn't kept in touch with me to just speculate about me or my life.
    Still, the movie DOES give you food for thought, and pause about your circumstances. It is an interesting and thought provoking study, which may be the best thing about it.

    Posted by Brenda Kohl | Thursday 26 July 2012 @ 07:23

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  • I guess I'm hopelessly utilitarian...how does one go three years without paying the rent or the electric bill without someone doing something about it?

    Posted by jbspry | Wednesday 01 August 2012 @ 07:14

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  • I, like many others, found it a very powerful and disturbing film which has resonated long after I saw it.

    As a piece of journalism, I'm sure it has many flaws - although Morley uncovered considerably more about Joyce Vincent's life than the newspapers managed to. And maybe there is inevitably something uncomfortable/distasteful about speculating about someone who has died in such difficult circumstances.

    But I disagree profoundly with the view that the filmmaker made the film at the expense of her subject's dignity. On the contrary, I thought it brought huge dignity to someone who otherwise would be remembered simply as an isolated person who died alone.

    Posted by John Steed | Monday 12 November 2012 @ 13:33

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  • Just saw it on channel 4. I completely agree with you Jamie.

    "I hope that a filmmaker doesn't come along and wheel out my vague acquaintances and former partners to have a good old gossip about where it all went wrong for me." - exactly how I felt watching it.

    I think for me, it was very upsetting to see that someone who had CHOSEN to be a very private person in life was denied this privacy in death. The circumstances surrounding her death was tragic enough, but the existence of this drama like documentary makes it more so. It was just gossip, and I felt uncomfortable as soon as I realised that this was the format for the film.

    And thank you for the additional information you gave in the comments. Knowing that the family was unhappy with the film makes this all the more unpleasant. I am quite surprised that it was so well received by critics and viewers alike.

    Posted by Emily | Friday 08 February 2013 @ 00:57

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