3 user 20 critic

The Joy of Life (2005)

Not Rated | | Documentary, History | 19 January 2005 (USA)
A blending of documentary and experimental narrative strategies, combining stunning 16mm landscape cinematography with a bold, lyrical voice-over to share two San Francisco stories: the ... See full summary »


Jenni Olson


Jenni Olson

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2 wins. See more awards »




Credited cast:
Harry Dodge Harry Dodge ... Voiceover (as Harriet Dodge)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti Lawrence Ferlinghetti ... Voiceover


A blending of documentary and experimental narrative strategies, combining stunning 16mm landscape cinematography with a bold, lyrical voice-over to share two San Francisco stories: the history of the Golden Gate Bridge as "suicide landmark," and the story of a butch dyke in San Francisco searching for love and self-discovery. The Joy of Life is a film about landscapes, both physical and emotional. Written by Jenni Olson

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Not Rated | See all certifications »


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Release Date:

19 January 2005 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

San Francisco, California, USA

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Did You Know?


Voiceover: What is it that we need in an ending? Tied up plot lines, evidence of some meaning behind the story, a moral, a punch line, a suicide?
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Referenced in The Royal Road (2015) See more »


The Coastline Rag
Composed by Weldon Kees
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User Reviews

A Love Letter to San Francisco and Its Residents
15 November 2006 | by cineman2See all my reviews

This highly enjoyable feature would be most accurately described as experimental. What makes it so is that The Joy of Life is composed of several parts that are quite different from each other. Only the visual approach remains constant: static and depopulated vistas of one of the world's beautiful cities: San Francisco and the Bay Area.

The first part involves voice-over readings from the diary of a butch lesbian experiencing romantic and sexual longing. I don't know whether these are the experiences of a fictional character or those of writer/director Jenni Olson. The voice we hear is that of San Francisco-based filmmaker Harriet "Harry" Dodge (By Hook or by Crook). This part of The Joy of Life resembles the director's short Blue Diary, which is also included on the DVD. Part two is very brief. Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads his evocative poem "The Changing Light" while the screen remains completely black. Part three revolves around the complex production histories of two classic films with suicidal characters: Capra's Meet John Doe and Hitchcock's Vertigo. Part four concerns the Golden Gate Bridge as a suicide mecca (the film is dedicated to one of the over 1300 people who've jumped to their deaths, a friend of the director who committed suicide in 1994). The Joy of Life documents the failed efforts by suicide prevention advocates to erect a barrier to prevent people from taking the 220 ft. plunge. Ms. Olson is clearly an advocate of erecting a barrier, as it was done for the Eiffel Tower and other suicide landmarks around the world.

The Joy of Life is brilliantly executed and practically impossible to classify as a whole. It is a personal confessional, a poetry reading, an essay film, and a social-advocacy documentary. What holds it together is the filmmaker's love for San Francisco and its residents.

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