Dreams of a Life (Dir: Carol Morley, 2011)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 95 min
Promotional Poster,

Promotional Poster,

Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life asks a question – “Would anyone miss you?” It is posed through the story of Joyce (Carol) Vincent, a 40-year-old, well-liked woman who died in her London flat in 2003, but whose body was not discovered for three entire years (by bill collectors, nonetheless). Almost completely disintegrated in the middle of her living room floor, Joyce Vincent’s only company was a television set that never turned off and half-wrapped Christmas presents for unknown recipients.

Framed primarily through interviews with people who knew Joyce Vincent in different capacities, and artistic re-imaginings of what Joyce Vincent may have been like (performed by British actress Zawe Ashton), Morley tries to piece together Joyce Vincent’s life and why, at the end of it, nobody knew that she was gone.

Dreams of a Life is a wonderful film for examining how staged dramatics can function within the realm of documentary film. Zawe Ashton transcends her role as an actress and becomes our conception of Joyce Vincent’s happiness, sadness, and the loneliness that underpinned her existence. The interview segments provide insight for framing Zawe’s actions, as people who knew Joyce Vincent in real-life remark at length about how beautiful, charming, and wonderful she was, but are completely at a loss for why nobody – themselves included – realized she was gone. The film is self-reflexive in this way, as Morley challenges the interviewees to understand why they failed Joyce Vincent. They are offered newspaper clippings and other material about Joyce Vincent’s life and death, and they react (usually with surprise) on camera. This eliminates the typical staginess of the documentary-interview, but is in direct contrast with how formally the interviewees are physically framed.

Dreams of a Life does not provide answers as much as it provides questions. It challenges the viewer to examine their own relationships with friends, family, and the world around them. It asks the viewer to explain why no one realized Joyce Vincent had disappeared. The haunting question that the film leaves viewers with is no longer “Would anyone miss you?” but “Why should anyone miss you?”


The Righteous Babes (Dir: Pratibha Parma, 1998)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 50 min

Color Video
Distributed by Women Make Movies

Skin and Sinead O'Connor in Pratibha Parmar's 'The Righteous Babes'

The Righteous Babes is a documentary by director Pratibha Parmar, which explores feminism in music, particularly in the 1990s. The name was taken from folksinger Ani DiFranco’s record label, ‘Righteous Babe Records’, which focuses on releasing albums for non-mainstream musicians. The documentary consists of musical footage with interviews of leading female vocal artists – Sinead O’Connor, Skin (Skunk Anansie), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Tori Amos, and Ani DiFranco – their fans, and feminists Andrea Dworkin, Camille Paglia, and Gloria Steinem.
Parmar portrays women in rock as a new type of feminist, showing the growth of this new form, from women such as Madonna using their sexuality to close the gap between feminism and music, to others like Chrissie Hynde, managing a band of men, to those addressing domestic abuse, like Tori Amos. The documentary also explores the exploitation of female artists by record labels, looking at examples from O’Conner and Madonna.
Parmar and those interviewed also criticize the more commercialized, or what O’Conner terms “bumper sticker”, version of feminism, with the Spice Girls, and also outside of music, Bridget Jones and Ally McBeal. “Feminism is a good word with a bad press. It is time for it to be used again with pride,” the voiceover says, addressing and educating young viewers learning about feminism mostly through mainstream media. While questioning these ditsier girl models and more generally new feminist role models, Parmar also asks, what exactly is feminism?
Parma is an Indian British filmmaker known for her documentaries on South Asian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual people (LGBT), and her debut feature film Nina’s Heavenly Delights. She has also made music videos for Tori Amos, featured in this documentary, as well as for other musicians, Morcheeba, Ghostlands and Midge Ure.

Women Make Movies entry for Righteous Babes:
A site focusing on female musicians, particularly in Rock:
Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe Records site:
Wikipedia entry on third-wave feminism:

Shinjuku Boys (dir. Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, 1995)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 53 min

Producer: K. Longinotto, by Twentieth Century Vixen for the BBC
Color, 16mm

Kim Longinotto’s Shinjuku Boys is one of several documentaries she has made about versions of women’s sexuality in Japan. In this short film, she introduces her audience to the lives of three annabes, women who dress and live as men, though who do not identify as lesbians. Gaish, Tatsu, and Kazuki work at the New Marilyn Nightclub in the Shunjuku section of Tokyo. They are “hosts” at the nightclub; their job is to entertain the clientele, making them feel welcome and cared for. Their patrons are straight, young or middle-aged women. As Kazuki says with a comfortable smile, “Each customer thinks we’re her special boyfriend. They’re wrong”.

Most of the documentary simply follows the annabes around their lives—in fact, long shots are taken of the subjects just walking around Tokyo. Longinotto’s goal seems to be to give us a very intimate sense of each subject’s personality, both in how they deal with customers at the club and in their outside lives, and she is very succesful in this goal. We see Tatsu getting a haircut and chatting with his barber about his hormone injections, and also preparing dinner with his serious girlfriend. Gaish goes on a date that we follow, which ends in his (or possibly his date’s) bedroom. With Kazuki, we watch his costuming process and meet his girlfriend, who is a drag queen.

In some sections of the movie, there are framed interviews. These are more or less informal, filmed in a variety of locations, though none of them are in studios. The interviewer is off-screen, but we do hear the questions posed to the subjects in Japanese. Gaish and Kazuki both have joint interviews with their girlfriends in addition to their individual interviews. The men talk about a variety of issues, including sexual practices and difficulties, long-term relationship plans, the effects of hormone injections, and the reactions of their families to their annabe status.

One major failing of this film is its lack of cultural context. There is no larger discussion of gender relations or queer culture in Japan, and as a result most Western viewers are left with an incomplete understanding of what precisely differentiates these women from a lesbian or transvestite/transsexual culture in Tokyo. The meaning of the word “annabe” is left vague, and the lack of background information makes me feel actually uncomfortable watching the film: I’m afraid of seeing these men through the cultural stereotypes I may bring to the table.


A good look at Longinotto’s career as a whole, and trends within these six films:
Morris, Gary. “Rebel Girls: Six Documentaries by Kim Longinotto”. Bright Lights Film Journal, (49), 2005 Aug, (no pagination) (Electronic publication.)

White, Patricia. “Cinema Solidarity: The Documentary Practice of Kim Longinotto”. Cinema Journal, (46:1), 2006 Fall, 120-28. 2006

The official word from Women Make Movies:
On Shinuku Boys
On Longinotto

IMDB listing