Review: ‘The Joy of Life’

Love and loss in San Francisco are the chief concerns of "The Joy of Life," queer cinema historian, programmer and filmmaker Jenni Olson's ironically titled ode to the City by the Bay. Combining strains of personal diary and social activism, pic is an uneven diptych, the second part of which is vastly more interesting than the first. "Joy" should solicit strong interest from gay and lesbian fests.

Love and loss in San Francisco are the chief concerns of “The Joy of Life,” queer cinema historian, programmer and filmmaker Jenni Olson’s ironically titled ode to the City by the Bay. Combining strains of personal diary and social activism, pic is an uneven diptych, the second part of which is vastly more interesting than the first. “Joy” should solicit strong interest from gay and lesbian fests.

Consisting almost exclusively of landscape photography and voiceover narration, “Joy” begins with a text scripted by Olson and voiced by performance artist Harriet “Harry” Dodge, in which a butch lesbian recounts her sexual conquests and gender-identity issues. Then, after a brief excerpt from poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s performance of his “The Changing Light,” pic evolves into a concise history of the Golden Gate Bridge’s status as the world’s leading suicide landmark. The Olson/Dodge text has the purplish, overwritten quality of a first year writing student’s exercises, but pic’s investigation into the bridge’s tainted iconography is lucid and precise. Ditto the crisp, unpopulated 16mm images of cinematographer Sophia Constantinou, from power lines on Portrero Hill to a convenience store lyrically wreathed in a streetlight’s glow.

The Joy of Life

Production

Produced by Russ Gage, Paul Lee. Co-producers, Julie Dorf, Scott Noble. Directed, written by Jenni Olson.

Crew

Camera (Monaco Film & Video color, 16mm), Sophia Constantinou; editor, Marc Henrich; music, Weldon Kees. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Frontier), Jan. 27, 2005. Running time: 63 MIN.

With

Narrators: Harriet "Harry" Dodge, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
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