Saturday, 14 January 2012

Notes on 'Dreams of a Life'

- The title is perfect for the subject matter. Somebody's life story told by everyone but the person whose life it is. Of course, that is what everyone's life becomes eventually. Someone else's memories; faded imprints worn thin by the ever mutating construct of recollection. The impression those who knew her give of Joyce Vincent tells us more about them than it does about her. We see more clearly the changing light the subject was cast in rather than the subject herself: outgoing, secretive, independent, needy, fun, tortured. The many shades of Joyce Vincent do more than suggest someone who was highly complex. They also illustrate the needs of those around her, their need to fit her into a particular type of role. The deeply human need to distil another person into a single adjective and then see any behaviour that deviates from that as an anachronism. We all do it, this film reminds us. Our minds long to connect the dots, we tend towards abstraction.

- They do all agree that she was beautiful. They reiterate it again and again; her beauty. This goes beyond desire and sexuality although that was a part of it. She was certainly sexy and men wanted to fuck her but more than that, her beauty turned her into an object of awe and adoration. You don’t defile idols with something as dirty or as base as sex. Notice who has the agency here and who doesn’t. This is where Joyce’s beauty seemed to exist as a two sided creature. It gave her power, a spellbinding power over men and she knew it. But it is also about the most passive power you could possess; it is utterly out of your control and liable to turn toxic at any time. It becomes too much about just being the object of someone else’s gaze. There is a reason we put great works of art behind glass. Beauty must be protected and preserved; it must remain pristine and kept in a static position where it can be seen. After all, beauty has no intrinsic value by itself, it only means something if it is viewed by others. It only exists for other people. No wonder then that the constant reminder of Joyce’s beauty makes it even easier to turn her into that which has no meaning in and of herself. She becomes a symbol of our disenfranchised society or a reminder to call your friends and family more often. Who she actually was gets lost.

- Zawe Aston plays another imagined incarnation of Joyce Vincent with a subtlety you’d never know she was capable of if you’d only seen her in Fresh Meat. She has almost no dialogue at all in stark contrast to the verbosity of the talking heads. She captures a sense of deceptive stillness, as if storms are raging just beneath the surface. Like the viewers, she watches her friends and lovers discuss her on screen. Again, the film emphasises an absence, a removal from one’s self, a dependency on the gaze of others.

- A friend who was clearly a bit in love with Joyce: ‘It’s like she never really existed, she was just a figment of our imagination, she was a story. It was like someone that we almost made up, almost. Partly because of the fact that we just let someone disappear off and die that we all knew and that we all thought we cared about’. A former lover: ‘Joyce died alone because she wanted to be alone’. The tension between feeling some sense of responsibility and wanting to believe that people make conscious choices.

- The last image of the film: Nelson Mandela in Wembley Stadium. The camera cuts to the people in the crowd. And then she turns around, a small smile on her face. The real Joyce Vincent captured on camera for a couple of seconds. It's an arresting and haunting image, not least because she really is as beautiful as they said. It's disconcerting to see a real person after all the conjecture and reconstruction. It's like seeing a painting come to life. An important reminder of the reality behind the dreams. Joyce Vincent, a flesh and blood Mona Lisa; beautiful, mysterious, with secrets we'll never know.