Dream of Life
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Eleven years in the making, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is a unique and intimate portrait of the renowned singer, songwriter, poet and activist. Patti Smith s music, poetry, and politics are fearless, funny, raw, and original.
Photographer- director Steven Sebring creates a beautiful collage of images, memories and performances illuminating the complexities and capturing the essence of this distinctive, legendary icon. The film follows Patti Smith s punk-icon roots in the 70s through the trials of daily life and untimely deaths that have formed her life and art. Smith tells the story of her early days in New York City, the people that we dearest to her (her late husband Fred Sonic Smith, Allen Ginsburg, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others), her family, and the political causes for which she so deeply struggled.
Through beautiful cinematography, (both black and white, and color), Sebring captures the essence nature of this vital and relevant American artist.
A conventional documentary wouldn't suit a timeless iconoclast like Patti Smith. Photographer-turned-filmmaker Steven Sebring's Dream of Life honors her originality through his own unique vision. Narrated by Smith in her unmistakable New Jersey drawl and shot primarily in grainy black and white, he revisits his subject's storied past through her reflective present. In the mid-1990s, when Sebring began filming, she was recovering from the loss of her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, guitarist for the MC5, while moving with their children, Jesse and Jackson, from Detroit to New York City. Over the next 11 years, the devoted director accompanies her as she travels to London, Rome, and other cities where she performs, speaks out against the Iraq War, and visits sites that hold special meaning, particularly the graves of poets. Along the way, she looks in on her proud parents and remembers departed friends, like Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, while Sebring intercuts clips and stills from her years as a punk pioneer (Michael Stipe, Sam Shepard, and Flea also put in appearances). As Smith notes in passing, "Life isn't some vertical or horizontal line... it's not neat," and Sebrings jazz improvisation of a film follows a similar pattern, putting a feminist spin on vérité-style musician profiles from Don't Look Back (a Smith favorite) to Lets Get Lost. If the pace is relaxed to a fault, the images are often intriguing, the performances are always inspiring, and Smith makes for an especially gracious guide into her own illustrious life. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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I didn't get around to seeing this film at the Film Forum. My schedule was crazy. I knew in advance I would buy it on DVD. I'm glad I saw it by myself, at home, in control of my environment. It's a dreamscape, and aptly named. Don't bother watching if you don't have the time or the attention span. This is detail work. Patti's life and commentary is like a tapestry, weaving in and out of remembrances. Tread by thread. Thought by thought.
Patti is a lovable raconteur. In the early days, she would often stop her shows to tell a bad joke. Like a kid. Then proceed to sing as if possessed. She still does. The film takes its time to weave in her remembrances - the beloved husband and father taken too soon; her parents, working class, and loving, with their aged dog; her ambition to get out of Jersey and into New York; art - in all forms - to embrace the word, the vision, the textures of paint, photography, song, three chord rock & roll. When the film breaks away from the reverie with glimpses of shamanistic performance it's jarring but riveting.
Kudos, not only to the director,Stephen Sebring, filming over 11 years is worthy of an "Atta boy!" and probably hazard pay. Access to Patti throughout the years, and obvious trust instilled, elevates this film from documentary to art. Bravo! to co-producer Margaret Smilow, who spun all that footage into this beautiful, grainy, ethereal, imperfect montage. It sucks you in and keeps you, if you're willing to let it, and have the time to devote.
I don't know if people who have heard about Patti Smith but don't really know her work would love this film as much as I did. But to me it's the essence of who she is, and how she sees this mortal coil. It's a wonder to see her children's growth, from baby pictures with Fred, to finding a bathroom for little Jesse, to the man and woman they are today. At one point, when I saw the adult Jackson Smith, I sat upright in my chair and said to myself, "God he looks just like his father!" Fred would be proud.
To see her beautiful daughter riding in a Central Park carriage while her mom talked about "She Walked Home" written about Jackie Kennedy coming to grips with dying, with her departed husband singing the song in the background, the song Patti wrote but won't sing because Fred made it his own. I cried.
Patti, Fred, Jackson, Jesse. Lenny & the band. Her mom and dad. I gave Patti a letter at a book signing. Her mom took the time to write back, and send an autographed, early 45 rpm record jacket. I was awestruck she took the time to respond and send such a lovely keepsake. In a weird way, after nearly 40 years, Patti's family. And this is a home movie.