Sunday, October 16, 2011

LFF: A Troubled Life

Still from Dreams of a LifeCarol Morley's doc Dreams of a Life receives its world premiere tonight at the LFF. Morley is known for her flights of fancy with the documentary form, but here she reins herself in for a gripping and troubling consideration of the life of Joyce Carol Vincent. Who? Who, exactly, for Ms. Vincent was the unfortunate soul whose dead body lay undetected in her London flat for more than two years.

How did a woman described by acquaintances as beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, ambitious and so forth come to such a grim end, surrounded by unopened Christmas presents? Why did nobody look for her? In search of answers, Morley (unseen and largely unheard behind the camera) placed adverts asking for those who knew (or thought they did) Vincent to come forward, and their on-camera interviews form the narrative of Dreams of a Life, as they offer sometimes contradictory assessments of a woman who seemed to hold herself apart and may have chosen to die alone.

Also mixing the dramatic and the documentary is Shock Head Soul, Simon Pummell's inventive telling of the story of Daniel Paul Schreber, a self-styled mystic who was committed to an asylum in Germany in the early twentieth century. Schreber resisted his diagnosis, explaining that he received messages from God, and he wrote up his ideas in an document that was praised by Jung and Freud, among others.

While Pummell allows the eloquent Schreber his space and displays the brutal treatments he was subject to, the mix of genres doesn't always work. In particular, the use of modern psychoanalysts (in period dress, no less) offering testimony and sometimes addressing characters directly is incredibly awkward. The animation sequences, as well, illustrating Schreber's visions also become intrusive after awhile. Ambitious, but flawed.

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