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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Film Review: Dreams of a Life, and interview with photographer Lottie Davis: creator of Dreams of Your Life

Dreams of a Life follows the life, and death, of Joyce Carol Vincent, who lay undiscovered in her bedsit above a busy shopping mall. Photographer Lottie Davies was commissioned to produce an accompanying artwork that identifies with the key themes of the film.

Written by Amelia Gregory

dreams_of_a_life film
She was my age when she died, just 38, and no one who knew her expected the badly decomposed corpse to be their friend Joyce Carol Vincent: here in lies the central pretext of Carol Morley‘s incredibly touching film about a much loved woman who simply vanished. Whilst her body lay rotting for three years in a bedsit above a busy North London shopping mall no one came looking for her (or found her), no one switched off her electricity and heating, and she went apparently unmissed. This film is part documentary, part reconstruction, with scenes from Joyce’s past life as a social butterfly of the 80s played out in colourful bathos. A portrait emerges of a beautiful, outgoing but fairly ordinary girl who in her youth had her pick of men and happily took centre stage at social occasions, but who was perhaps a bit lost, and somehow, years later, slipped through the cracks of society.

dreams-of-a-life-Joyce
Dreams of a Life says as much about contemporary culture as it does about the life of Joyce. It’s a stinging commentary on our current society, where despite all our networks people are often left feeling isolated. It also touches on themes of consumption and keeping up appearances. Joyce was always coy about her jobs, and from the evidence it seems that towards the end she was embarrassed about her employment as a cleaner, a sharp contrast to her past life as an office girl in a good company. Ultimately Dreams of a Life is a reflection of ourselves… how do we so easily stop talking to friends and how does work get in the way of a sociable life? A question we might all want to ask as the Christmas period draws near.

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
To accompany the film, which comes out today, photographer Lottie Davies was commissioned to create a series of time lapse images called Dreams of Your Life that provoke the central themes of society, loneliness, friendship and love explored in Dreams of a Life. I spoke to hear about the project and the feelings it elicited.

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
How hard was it to translate a non specific story into a series of images that represented the films key themes? How did you set about achieving this task and what was the starting point of inspiration?
Creating the project was a collaborative process, with Margaret from Hide & Seek, who conceived and developed the ‘game’. She told me the bare bones of the film’s story, and we brainstormed the various elements of the parallel ‘story’ we wanted to tell, alongside A L Kennedy’s remarkable script. The primary inspiration for the photographs was imagining what happened to Joyce’s flat during the three years she lay undiscovered; what might have happened inside the flat, and outside it, while no-one was looking. I imagined myself in the flat, looking around as time passed – I imagined a great deal of silence and the settling of floorboards, drying up of dishtowels, mould growing on the windowsills, colours fading, cobwebs obscuring corners, and maybe occasionally someone passing by the window on their way to buy milk, you know? And I looked at a lot of reference images for those kind of gradual processes, to see which we might use to create the sense of absence which I imagined.  

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
As the story in the project is driven by the person experiencing it, we couldn’t be directly linear, or drive the viewer in a particular way, as you can with a film, so it’s necessarily more loose, and maleable, and will reflect the journey that they happen to take. So yes, that was certainly a challenge, but it was also quite liberating as we could afford to play with alternative scenarios and imagine different routes simultaneously.

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
You didn’t watch the film before you embarked on the project – why did the window become so important to you?
The oddest thing was when I went to see the film at the BFI, I saw the poster properly for the first time, and realised that we had made a window-scene almost identical to the one Carol had made – even the flowers were placed in the same part of the frame. Spooky.

So, the view of the window allowed us to explore both the inside and outside world in one frame, and we wanted to allow the outside to encroach somewhat towards the end, which is why the side-window was left slightly open. Each theme in the story has a corresponding element within the frame which progresses as the player moves forward; the flowers in the jar wilt and die, the keys and coins become rusty and dust-covered, the dandelion grows and dies, and finally, more obvious elements of life come into the story towards the end, with the cat and the birds. The journey follows the seasons through just over a year, and I worked with the script so that at key moments the atmosphere and light of the image correspond to the emotional impact of the text. At least, that’s the idea!

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
How did you achieve the special effects required to recreate 4 seasons?
The technical elements were principally making sure nothing moved during the shoot, and that the interior and exterior transformations were convincing – we had three days to shoot, and I worked closely with Jacob Stevens (the special effects technician) beforehand, testing effects such as frost, dust, wilting the flowers quickly, the postcard aging and so on. For outside the window, I wanted there to be very obvious seasonal indicators which meant bringing in a tree, or rather, a very large branch. We built a scaffold tower outside the window, clamped the ‘tree’ to it, along with various flash-heads which could be moved up or down and side to side so that when we were shooting I could decide to shoot ‘morning, winter’ followed by ‘afternoon, summer’ if I chose. There was rather a lot of pinning leaves to the ‘tree’ and then removing them, and a great deal of climbing through the downstairs window to access the scaffold, because it had blocked the door to the garden. All good fun.

The trickiest part was timetabling changes, as they were all happening at the same time, and once the scene was set, there was no moving an object or taking something out. I had a fairly strict schedule for the three days of shooting; I decided in advance which month we would be in, whether it was morning or afternoon for each shot, and worked out when one transformation would begin and end. Sometimes they overlapped of course, which made for hard work for Jacob, but we aimed for all the progressions to fit the script and that the pivotal moments would be timed to coincide with events occurring for the player as they followed the text. There was a point on day three when some enthusiastic cat-wrangling moved the tree and I had a minor panic, but luckily we managed to match up the branches fairly closely again or we might have had to bring a winter storm into the scenario to account for a sudden lack of tree.

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
What do you hope that people will feel when they look at your images?
Hmm, tough question! I guess I hope that at first, they won’t notice the changes happening, but at a certain point they will – and perhaps that will make them wonder what they missed – ‘how did that happen, I was watching the screen the whole time, but I didn’t notice the flowers were dying until they were completely dead’. I hope that they provoke a response in the viewer, as the script does – that they feel warm or cold, uplifted or saddened, that they may smile at a certain frame, or be surprised. I hope that the images will make them feel and think certain things, as I felt and thought as I heard Joyce’s story and imagined being in her flat. I suppose that’s what I aim for in my work in general; certainly in my fine art work; to provoke certain sensations or thoughts which correspond to sensations and thoughts I have had when hearing stories.

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
What did you feel when you finally watched the film as a whole?
On one level I was surprised – I think I had expected it to be more sombre than I found it was. Since I knew a little in advance, I was prepared for the opening scenes, but the interviews with Joyce’s friends were especially moving, particularly towards the end. I think I hadn’t expected to find out so much about her as a person, I suspect I had been anticipating more explication, and the solving of the mystery. Not being given that solution could have been disappointing, but I found at the end there was sufficient catharsis, while still leaving elements of mystery. As I said to you yesterday, it makes you think, doesn’t it? I live pretty close to Wood Green, and now, every time I drive past Shopping City I glance up at the flats and think of Joyce.

DOYL C4 Dreams Of Your Life Lottie Davis
On a wider level, what do you hope this film might achieve?
I suppose, like any artistic endeavour, I hope that it will make people think. When I go to see an art exhibition, or a film, or a play, I hope to feel something new, or unexpected, and I hope to come away with some new thoughts. I hope to learn something, be it small or large; something to take away with me. I think Carol’s film does this, it stays with you.

You can see more work by Lottie Davis on her website and find out where you can see the film on the Dreams of a Life website.

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