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Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Director: STEVEN SEBRING

U.S.A. • 2008 COLOUR/BLACK AND WHITE • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 109 MIN


THE TITULAR ROCKER-POET GETS A SUITABLE PORTRAIT IN STEVEN SEBRING’S DREAM OF LIFE, WHICH RUNS RADICALLY AGAINST THE GRAIN OF AMERICAN-MADE POP MUSIC DOCUMENTARIES.

The result of 11 years of filming (much of it in wonderfully grainy black-and-white 16mm), the film is designed as a stream-of-consciousness experience, following Smith as she revives her music career and considers every aspect of her life. Starting in 1995, when Smith recorded her comeback album Gone Again and toured with her idol Bob Dylan after having not performed for 16 years, Sebring’s project clearly developed as it went along, and the effect of watching the film is seeing something in the making.

In voiceover, Smith briefly sums up her background as the daughter of Chicago parents and the cultural child of ’60s art-political foment. At 23, a fledgling and serious poet, she became friends with artist Robert Mapplethorpe and teamed with him for a series of works that belonged to the early phases of performance art. Other encounters (such as with then-hell-raising playwright Sam Shepard) proved crucial, and led her into rock ‘n’ roll.

Dream of Life distinctively treats the particulars of Smith’s early career in only glancing references, none of them in chronological order. She’s seen almost sentimentally at her old home outside Detroit, where she moved after her halcyon New York days in the ’70s. She visits the graves of the poets she reveres: Allen Ginsberg, Percy Shelley, William Blake, William S. Burroughs. Her manner is generally so gentle and meek that her angry, wild behaviour onstage offers the impression of a woman with two different personalities. — Robert Koehler.

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