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August 30th, 2008


by Mr. Norman Maine

Patti Smith is an artist without parallel. She is an innovator and an original, completely unique. From her early rock/punk roots to her now aged and soulful voice, she has shocked and amazed. And not just with her music—Smith’s poetry is unnerving, deep and inspired. Her love of classic poetry and poets, her respect for those who have come before her, her outspoken political views and her drive make her a true force of nature. She is a widow, a loving mother, a friend and a caring and concerned citizen of planet Earth.

Filmmaker Steven Sebring has mustered every ounce of his formidable talents to create this powerful, moving documentary. With the cooperation of Smith, together they have created nothing short of a masterpiece. The film has already been awarded with the Best Cinematography prize at the 2008 Sundance Festival. Sebring has also taken on the legendary position of photographing Smith for her CD covers, a position of prominence once held by the brilliant Robert Mapplethorpe; to date Sebring has photographed Patti Smith for her Gung Ho, Land, and Twelve covers.

If you go to this film with the expectations of seeing a Patti Smith concert you’re going to be deeply disappointed. This not a Martin Scorsese, Rolling Stones, every shot planned out, scripted and over-edited film, and it’s not the typical rockumentary with the obligatory black and white, slow motion in and out of a limo shot—although a good portion of the film is in black and white. This is an uncensored, unrehearsed open door look into the private life of one of the great artists of our time.

Dream of Life
starts off beautifully with a voice over from Smith giving us a brief run down on her life, from where she was born to where she is now and all points in between, perfectly illustrated with personal snap shots of the people and places she refers to. After the opening we are firmly in the grip of Director Sebring and his Co-Director Of Photography Philip Hunt.

The viewer is taken on a journey of Patti Smith’s life and loves; this was filmed over the course of 11 years, and not a lot of her life goes uninspected, except the live performance aspect of it. And although I understand the omission, I was a little surprised how left out Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye is. This is a man who has been a friend and collaborator for as long as she has been a performer, so I found this just a bit odd. To be clear, this is a look into her life, not her career as a rock star; her career is addressed but not explored. But it remains fresh, interesting and as bold an experiment as you may ever see on film. We have burgers with her parents and a tour of their back yard. We see Rome, Paris, and Japan through her eyes; we are taken to the graves of some of the star’s poet heroes like Rimbaud and Alan Ginsberg, and she shares with us the ashes of her dear friend, legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Smith trades stories of having to pee in a bottle on an airplane with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and we are serenaded by the brilliant playwright/actor Sam Shepard, her friend and former love. This scene is one of the more charming points in the film, along with the visit to her parents and a beautiful moment where Patti Smith sits in her apartment and sings to her cat as the sunlight illuminates the room. It’s so genuine and sincere that it almost makes us forget we’re leering into the personal life of an icon.

This film is a beautiful and moving portrait of Patti Smith and her life. It’s the counterbalance to films like Madonna’s Truth Or Dare; it’s genuine and moving. Patti Smith is to be commended for opening her self up for all to see and Mr. Sebring is to be congratulated for taking this rare opportunity and treating it in the most thoughtful and tasteful way possible. This is a work of art by an artist about an artist. I say well done to all.

Patti Smith – Dream of Life
A Film By Steven Sebring
PALM Pictures
109 minutes

Film Forum
209 W Houston Street
Through Tuesday, 9/11/8
Showtimes: 1:00, 3:15, 5:40, 7:50, 10:00

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