~PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE
‘PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE’ – A STEVEN SEBRING FILM
REVIEWED BY NANCY SMITH, JAN 4, 2010
‘PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE’ – premiered on P.O.V. – PBS Channel 13 NYC – WED DEC 30, 2009.
. . . heading into this New Year’s Eve, I sunk deep into a big funky look back – instead of partying – I slept for 2 days solid – except for some intermittent – weird hour – kitchen table-top – solitaire – with real cards – and a bottle of KHALUA leftover from Christmas. what the hell ? was life that bad – would the future – be that mean.
finally emerging at what crazy hour – 3 am – Friday night, really Saturday morning Jan 2. 2010 – and totally out of sync with the rest of the world – with nothing to lose, nothing to do, and thinking nothing to gain – I turned on the t.v. – fully expecting to bore myself back to sleep with infomercials. not.
with typical innate crackula timing – I had hit the remote – with some kind of magic – that promised more life was yet to be lived !! talk about flip. despair to transfixed delight in a nanosecond – as the opening credits of ‘PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE’ – began a seriously off-hours broadcast re-run – on PBS – for the city that never sleeps. wow !! did I get snapped up and swept away – or what. a documentary, more like a dream, and thus aptly titled, more like a poem, or a love song – it caught the core – of what can only be called wild, raw, deathly beautiful, off-the-wall and truly – anti-establishment – inspiration. the iconic punk mother musician of them all – Patti Smith – looking back, and going forward. mostly through black and white footage, accompanied by a narrative in her own words – of a pretty straightforward, yet personal nature. a little guarded. a little visionary. also interweaving in the words of her songs, and the texts of her poems.
I fell hard. immediate entrancement – smack up against a poem of a portrait of a rebel of an icon. a cinematic poem of a slim but strong-boned woman, with a mostly unkempt mane of hair – always in men’s clothes and a series of hard-core boots – a documentary of fleeting moments strung together – like black and white Christmas lights – with the lightest of touch – and joy – by a fashion photog – of all people. it’s a documentary that feels photographic, as opposed to cinematic. ghostly as opposed to agenda-like. footage that was allowed to run free. feel wild. catching a ghost by the toe ? you can catch a few fleeting frames of the filmmaker himself – Steven Sebring – he’s that wild strawberry-colored character that kind of bookends the film’s spin. and the film does spin a fine web – with bits of archived historic footage – memories – caught up in the also mostly black and white footage Mr. Sebring pulled from the past 11 years of jumping in on her life – starting from the moment when he first interfaced with her, in 1995, when she (has to) return to perform, after the deaths of her husband, and her brother.
what a way to wake up to: YEAR 2010.
just imagine how Patti Smith felt. She turned 63 this past Wed Dec 30th !! she was in concert for 3 nights, as per her 11 year tradition at the Bowery Ballroom, and this gossamer of a film tribute debuted on Channel 13. apparently almost around the clock !!
so, she goes from 50 to 60 in the 11 years Mr. Sebring filmed her. its fascinating to watch. esp in one so free and wild. 50 can still be young in artworld years, it’s only ten from 40 – but 60 really seems to be on the cusp of turning a corner.
it’s also fascinating to watch the intertwined clips from even further back – illuminating her true blue American journey from early rural factory roots to the punk rock scene of New York City in the late 60s, and 70s – CBGB, and the Chelsea Hotel via the words of William Blake – and seriously interfacing in person – with Robert Mapplethorpe and William Burroughs.
truth be told – at times it felt like it needed one more edit. by a harsher hand than the loving one that held the camera.
loved all that passing highway scenery, give me more – but the scenes with her parents were a smidgen too long. that early footage with her son – where he is talking in his room to the out-of-range interviewer is way too corny. and the scene where she is on the beach with, I guess, a new lover – is downright cringe-inducing. bad enough they are trading pee stories, but to see this rebel icon, who doesn’t think twice about showing up on stage in a beat-up man’s suit jacket with messy lame hair – transparently calculating the risks of alienating her man – by outdoing him with bragging rights – is too much. well I guess it is revealing. even Patti Smith has clay feet. but better watch out or that segment is going to end up in YouTube afterlife – as the closest thing the artworld has ever got – to being celebrity ridiculed on – by Joel McHale and his E!! Soup.
on the other hand, on the list of: wish there was more of. wish there was more footage of her husband and that he had been more clearly hi-lighted as such – as his briefest of brief cameos flash by, we aren’t all insiders. same with the the members of her band, wish there was more on them, and on her bro. it was riveting to hear her tell of his support from earliest days forward.
and then, there’s her painting. put it this way – I don’t dream to post my musical pretensions – just cause primal music has a case for it. ok. just because Jackson Pollock used drips – doesn’t make all drip painting – painting. though it was kind of fun to see her try to cross the cultural divide, and it was touching to see her final cameo – one of the few moments filmed in color – as she sits beneath her big, now framed drip painting.
I haven’t said too much about her music. well, it’s in there – as it should be – beyond words – included are great clips of her in early performance. and later forays. Simon says her first 2 albums “were amazing. in a class with the Velvet Underground. She was much more important, much more of a punk icon, than Blondie.”
you can watch the trailer, and catch more info on the film,
– including interviews with the film’s maker STEVEN SEBRING & PATTI SMITH, herself: here on P.O.V./PBS !!
more pix – from ‘PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE’ – off the TV !!
loved loved loved – all those – on-the-road trip clips !!
see that big ole POLAROID camera to the right. she’s pretty much joined to the hip with it – throughout !!
wonder if she can still get film – for it ? it’s fun watching her handle it – heavy-duty snapshots for sure !!
lots of the action takes place at the Chelsea Hotel !! or is that – Hotel Chelsea – that they call it now ?
at some stage in her life – she’s got these great messy braids down the front – love it.
you can also watch her rings change places on her fingers, over the years, if you look closely.
with ALLEN GINSBERG.
with ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, who she talks about the most. and with whom she seems to have been the most bonded.
she even shows us a small ‘Persian’ urn of a portion of his ashes, and says it’s not so much ashes – as fragments of hard chalk-like substance – I think they call that bone, Patti.
the film’s maker – STEVEN SEBRING
later on. that Polaroid is still hangin’ in there.
today. or at any rate – the latest segment caught on the film.
the film follows her in real life – for 11 years, from 50 t0 60.
and includes some early archival footage – going all the way back to childhood, and of course: those heady, early CBGB days – when PATTI SMITH ruled.
yep, you can just catch a glance of her painting, a gesture drip sort of thing – behind her. ok. it doesn’t look too bad, here.
maybe you had to see some of the live footage of her creating it. maybe it was her commentary at the time – that rang a little flat for me. ok. no fair – I’m in art 24/7.
ok. not bad for a rebel punk musician. poet. thinker. seer. put it this way – at least she counts us on her side of things.
and that’s a good thing.