Having taken 5 years, Carol Morley's latest documentary investigates the mysterious life & death of Joyce Vincent found dead in her London flat in 2006.
Director Carol Morley tells us what drove her to document the life and death of Joyce Vincent, the gruelling journey of discovery it was and how she now feels having finally reached the end of it.
LOVEFiLM: How did you first hear about Joyce’s death?
Carold Morley: It was because I picked up the Sun while I was travelling on the Underground. I read the headline, woman dead in flat for three years: skeleton of Joyce found on sofa with telly still on. The thing that drew me in really straight away was one, the fact that her TV was still on; there was this image in my head of a flickering TV in front of her decomposing body, I couldn’t get that image out of my head. And second that the story was just so anonymous and that kind of kept burning in my head, the whole situation.
LF: You’ve played deeper than the authorities really and had more success than them at finding out anything about Joyce.
CM: Yes, I think it’s because with the authorities or say the initial journalist, people can only devote so much time to something. The case was closed in a sense. Because I took the time to put adverts out there and find people, I think that is why I was successful, I dedicated the time to it. I don’t think my skills are better; it’s more about the time thing really.
LF: And what drove you to push deeper than anyone else?
CM: I just felt really powerfully led by this sense that we could let somebody just become forgotten. Also it’s something about the three years that she was just left there. I felt really powerfully that I couldn’t let that go without some kind of attempt to resurrect or give her a life of dignity or give her a legacy. Earlier I kept thinking of the word eulogy, I wanted to give her a eulogy.
LF: How difficult was it to persuade people to talk to you about Joyce?
CM: That’s a good question. I think that people are very suspicious of the media. I think there is that sense that people worry about what it’ll end up becoming. It’s not like we are talking about something easy here, it’s complicated and some people felt that by association people would blame them. I did spend a lot of time meeting people and talking to them. Someone like Martin who is a key person in the film, I met him over 2-3 years before I interviewed him. That built up a trust and people understood what I was trying to do, I wasn’t making a film about blame and accusation, I wanted to make a more complex film about friendship and guilt. It took a while to build up that trust.
LF: As you started to learn more about Joyce what were you most surprised about with regards to her life?
CM: That she was so popular and people said that she never argued. I found that quite a surprising detail at first, this idea that she’d never raise her voice and was really polite and reasonable with people. She presented herself so immaculately and all these details gave others, to an extent, the impression that she was alright a lot of the time. Almost everything surprised me as I went along. That she wanted to be a singer and her mother died when she was 11 and that was the age when my dad had died. And that we used to live on the same street in London, at different times. There were things like that surprised me because they made her closer to me.
LF: Out of all the interviews you did for the documentary which one was the hardest for you?
CM: Martin gave the longest interview and expressed himself more emotionally than anyone else and I really felt for him, that he was willing to expose himself in that way.
LF: Having made the documentary how do you now feel?
CM: I just can’t believe that I got to the other end of it. It has been 5 years of my life and part of that has been trying to get the money and people saying no one would want to watch the film, no one would want to see the kind of film you want to make. Most of the people who have seen it so far have responded really positively to it and have found it quite accessible and universal. I love that people are phoning their friends and family, someone threw a party for their neighbours after watching it. I like that rather than people at the end of it feeling really down or feeling unable to do anything constructive they are feeling constructive and positive, I love that. I am really excited that I have told a true story because I think it was so important to tell. I feel immensely relived I have gotten to the other side of it and that people are responding to it.
LF: I can imagine it is tough for the family but surely they feel proud that someone has devoted their time to Joyce?
CM: They were in two minds about it, they wanted to grieve alone. But they understood the fact that because it had become public record by appearing in the papers there was that interest in it. They were in a way quite supportive of me, I don’t mean they wanted me to make the film but I respect their attitude to me having made it.
LF: It is a very moving documentary so thank you for spending years and years on it, it just shows that hard work and effort all pays off.
CM: I am just glad people are into it. People are getting stuff out of it that I never intended. That to me is so exciting when you make a film and people have different readings of it and engage with it in different ways. Some people are noticing some things more than others. I don’t think a film is really made until the audience sees it. That’s what I am excited about now, listening to people and taking it all on board.