The Joy of Life

joy of lifeI’ve excitedly followed Jenni Olson’s career over the years. Since 1993, she’s created eleven films. She created a beautiful coffee table book, The Queer Movie Poster Book. And through her work at Wolfe Video and previously at queer film festivals and gay websites, she picked up Vito Russo’s torch championing LGBT film visibility around the world. I’m thrilled to be reviewing The Joy of Life for Reel Charlie’s 30 Days of Gay. Olson explores disparate topics of butch lesbian identity and suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge. Truly a love story to San Francisco, The Joy of Life begins with musings on love and life in voice-over as the viewer sees images from every corner of the city. Fascinating having just watched Jarman’s Blue and to be able to compare the two films – Derek’s film forcing you to listen to his words, Jenni’s film doing the same after you soak in the beauty of each shot. I loved the ordinariness of many of her thoughts and the powerful accents – profound moments. I loved realizing how closely our worlds connect. There are differences and I love observing the differences, but so much is the same. Olson loves to dissect and analyse her life which I’ve been doing since I was old enough to think and write in a notebook. I marveled at her life in San Francisco – the simplicity of it and the privilege of it. As someone who’s spent a long time now in small towns, I crave what she has – casual access to a beautiful urban life. Where I was lost a bit was during the descriptions of the Golden Gate Bridge and then the suicide statistics. I finally realized this part of the film makes geek dykes come alive. Engineer dykes, engineer geeks, fact dykes, fact geeks. Geek dykes. Yes, I wrote that twice. Did I just coin a phrase? Probably not. Olson brings it all home when she combines both aspects of the film and talks about her life in San Francisco in relationship to the Golden Gate Bridge. We come full circle to her love letter. Shot in gorgeous 16mm landscape, The Joy of Life celebrates butch lesbian identity in a world where it continues to be invisible. I am thrilled when brave women such as Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), and Jenni Olson explore their identity as butch lesbian women in a continually hostile patriarchal world. 4 out of 5 for this important piece of cinema.

Follow Jenni Olson’s blog at


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