Patti Smith: Dream Of Life

Patti Smith: Dream Of Life


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Patti Smith, whip thin and wire haired; the music heroes' music hero; a respected icon of beatnik culture; an ardent peace activist; Rolling Stone called her the "Godmother of Punk". She's worked with musicians from Michael Stipe and Philip Glass to Bruce Springsteen and Chili Pepper bassist Flea. Her androgynous, aquiline beauty has attracted photographers like long time collaborator Robert Mapplethorpe and Annie Leibowitz. She recites Rimbaud, Blake and Ginsberg. She's a legend.

Patti Smith: Dream Of Life is very much an alternative documentary - from the outset the viewer is assaulted with low-fidelity footage of horses, factories and trains, while Smith recites a short autobiography in a monotone drawl, backed by swirling noise, processed guitars and railway sounds. Those expecting an in depth history of Smith will be disappointed. This is a snapshot of her life in the last 11 years - a time which has seen the death of her husband, brother and parents, but also a return to releasing music. The film meanders between footage of people and places she's visited, concert footage and long sequences of Smith reciting poetry over quietly meandering soundscapes. The latter may seem pretentious, but they capture her poetic side and juxtapose well with the anger of her politics and the power of her performances.

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Visually the film is often gorgeous, steeped in grainy nostalgic glory, but complaints can be leveled about its subjectivity - this is a indulgent portrait of an artist, filmed and directed by those in awe of her. Smith was clearly key in making the film and has had a lot of editorial control. No character flaws are ever shown and there's a strong sense that nobody ever criticises her actions anymore; her work and opinions have become sacrosanct. It's resulted in some sections of the film feeling like a soapbox for her to stand on, to proselytize her personal politics; to bolster her image as a radical poet. At other times it just means that there are drawn out ethereal sequences that get slightly tedious and could really do with being edited down.

The film really caters to people who adulate Patti Smith - committed disciples of her music, poetry and politics who will relish the insight into the soul of a true free spirit. For passing fans of her rock'n'roll (and anyone who rolled their eyes throughout the last sentence) the film may be difficult to swallow. There is some great live gig footage that is raw and powerful, and some back history that is interesting - but it's too one-sided to be a really good documentary - this is a loving portrait.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2008
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Intimate portrait of the icon.
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Director: Steven Sebring

Writer: Steven Sebring

Starring: Patti Smith

Year: 2008

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: US

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