The Joy of Life, Jenni Olson (2005)

Screen shot 2014-09-18 at 11.01.51 PMScreen shot 2014-09-18 at 11.10.38 PMThe Joy of Life combines stunning 16mm landscape cinematography with a bold, lyrical voiceover (performed by LA-based artist/actor Harriet “Harry” Dodge) to share two San Francisco stories: the history of the Golden Gate Bridge as a 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.

An impressionistic series of cityscapes serve as visual backdrop for this poetic reflection on love, loss and pining over straight girls. Grappling with gender identity issues and the occasional episode of depression, the film’s lone protagonist (the voice of Harriet “Harry” Dodge, By Hook or By Crook) pinballs from sexual conquest to neurotic despair, manic romance to pathetic solitude. The voiceover balances melancholy angst and wry humor in its Casanova account of various urban, romantic, and sexual adventures — from the frisson of flirting to the heartache of rejection.

Her narrative of self-discovery resonates with her discovery of the city of San Francisco and leads into an in-depth documentary reflection on the history of suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge. This section explores the original bridge design (once described as “suicide-proof”), the phenomenon of suicide landmarks, and the decades-long debate over possible construction of a suicide barrier on this, the number one suicide landmark in the world.