Thursday 13 June 2013

A couple of years ago I saw a trailer for a documentary about a woman who died in her flat and no-one discovered her death for three years. It was called Dreams of A Life and I definitely was going to see it when it came out at the cinema. (Nowhere near) ironically I not only didn’t watch it I also didn’t really notice I hadn’t watched it for a couple of years – until I noticed it on Netflix the other day. So, I’ve watched it haven’t I?

It’s a bit odd. Before watching it I knew these things: a woman died in a London flat and lay undiscovered for three years and that the television had been on all the time. After watching it I didn’t really know much more. Not that I am criticising the documentary – it is clearly a somewhat fascinating story. Only no-one knows anything and so it is kind of 90 minutes of a few people talking about someone who’s just normal and unexceptional (in fact sounds a little bit of a nightmare) in almost every way.

But because she died that’s all given a bit of a spin to make her seem like there was something a bit special about her. And that’s magnified by the fact that they’re in a documentary. I’m not having a go at this woman; You don’t have to be interesting or exceptional – it’s not her fault someone has made a film about her. So, when there are bits about how she was an amazing presence in a room and that she was a brilliant singer I couldn’t help but feel she couldn’t have been THAT amazing or her life story would be a little more interesting than it is: which is only really interesting because she died and no-one even noticed.

And, of course, people talking about someone whose passing – and the events surrounding it – was so tragic are going to mythologise her life. But the real sadness for me was that she was so ordinary and despite some hyperbole about her talents as a singer she came across as someone who life happened to rather than vice-versa. The real tragedy is that a human being died and no-one noticed or gave a fuck. Not that she didn’t get to be some singing sensation – that she wasn’t important enough to anyone to notice she died. Surely that is the real point of telling this story? Isn’t that this could be so many people who are alone in some way?

You can’t blame the people who were contributing as her friends – she clearly hadn’t made great efforts to remain in touch. Indeed one of the real sad(der) moments when we find out that she listed her next of kin/emergency contact for her last job as a her bank manager (who she did not have a close friendship with). The friends do seem to be a bit annoyed at her neighbours for not noticing. I don’t think I would know if someone who lives across the hall died. Well other than the smell. I would probably say something mean in an email to the letting agency about the smell.

Two of the people we see most of were two of her former boyfriends. One was clearly out of his depth with an attractive black woman (he makes some reference to laughing about his dad talking about having tinted children, or something). The other guy is a musician and is clearly a prick – he makes several reference to how brilliant HE is. Indeed I am pretty sure he says, “Maybe I was too good for her.” Quite.

I did find myself getting annoyed by almost every contributor. There are some slightly contentious statements made by people – and some stupid things:

  • Her father is mentioned and described by someone as a ‘typical West Indian guy’ which entails wearing suits, walking with a swagger and chatting up young girls according to the person who said it.
  • There is also someone who says they asked her what she was always going out with ‘white honkeys’ and advised her what she needed was a good black man. My question here is: aren’t all honkeys white?
  • One direct quote is: “because of a trust issue she has an issue with trusting people.”

They all just said twatty stuff. And, again, I’m not having a go at them. They aren’t to blame for being part of this documentary. Towards the end one woman says “if you think about it it’s like we just accepted that we never heard from her again.” And it was LIKE that because that’s EXACTLY what happened.

Ultimately this was a bit of an odd experience. Part profile of someone who wasn’t really that interesting*; part investigation into how this could have happened; part talking heads with people talking in cliches and stating the obvious. It wasn’t a particularly unpleasant watch, I just don’t feel that I learned anything, felt anything or enjoyed myself in the process of watching it. Sadly.

*I don’t mean that in a mean way.

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