Stig Björkman has been bugging Joyce Carol Oates to let him make a documentary about her life. Not in a stalker-y way, obviously. She’s done her share of interviews, as the documentary shows. But after those few moments in the spotlight, she returns to the kind of private life that viewers expect a prolific writer to live. After sixteen years of reading Bjorkman’s pitches for a documentary spanning her career and life, she finally says yes. This documentary that gives her a longer spotlight, having a mouthful of a title like Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind. It starts out with a soundtrack with wind instruments. This makes it the whimsical artsy documentary that Hot Docs yearlong members would be into. And yes, there are some content and pacing issues here. The first half of the documentary makes her career and life seem conflict free.
Although in fairness, Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind‘s does have its interesting moments. As I previously wrote, the first half is the career half, connecting through lines with her early work to her later fame. It makes sense that a woman who wrote about race relations in Detroit would also start Twitter feuds with Donald Trump. By the way, I’m making it seem like the documentary tackles its subject in a backward linear way. But it does go back and forth between different moments of her life. The second half of the doc, then, tackles earlier moments of her life and family history, making it the meatier part of the film. It dives into these subjects without making them too depressing though. She shows her own brand of feminism through her writing and her interviews. And she makes other writers feel comparatively lazy.
Find out how to watch or stream Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind here.