Patti Smith is Fascinating, But This Documentary Is Unfocused and Wandering
"Patti Smith: Dream Of Life" was a film I saw at the 11th Annual Maine International Film Festival on July 16, 2008.
This film will without a doubt appeal mostly to Patti Smith fans. Those who don't know that much about her, and want to find out more, may want to buy one of her earlier albums (such as "Horses") or read about her on the Internet first. I say this only because the parts of this documentary when we hear Patti Smith in her own words are very well done, and at many times artistic. However, the movie loses its momentum within the second part when the director seems to be only interested in how Smith acts backstage. This latter subject takes up approximately 60% of this 109 minute movie, and it had me checking my watch constantly as I sat in the theater.
For the record, I have heard some of Patti Smith's records and generally like her music, but I don't count myself a big fan of hers which may be why I found myself bored through some of the movie. Truth be told, she is probably one of the most devoted musicians of the last 40 years, not to mention the most devoted and spirited female artist. She may not have a following as big as Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones, but she has influenced countless alternative bands including R.E.M., Marilyn Manson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Talking Heads, and other influential artists.
In regards to this documentary, the parts that truly shine are when Patti Smith speaks to the audience and recounts her influences, which include various poets not to mention Bob Dylan. I also liked some of the backstage footage of her interacting with her bandmates and even sometimes with her children. For such a musical legend, she is very personable and incredibly down to earth. She also is well aware of where she came from, as evidenced from the interesting part of the documentary where she visits her parents.
There are other great gems in this documentary, such as when she makes a live tirade against President George W. Bush. After hearing that speech, it made me wish that more antiwar protesters were that spirited.
You'll notice that so far, I've given Patti Smith a lot of compliments, all of which are well deserved. This documentary did her justice, and I will give it credit for that. However, it was just too unfocused for me, and those great moments were just thrown in there with a whole lot of rubble. The film could have truly benefited with some better editing and more finite organization. As a result, by the second half of the film, the momentum is completely lost and the film just drags.
It appeared that the filmmakers didn't know whether they wanted to make a true portrait of an artist or a concert feature. If they wanted to make a concert feature, they could have taken a hint from Martin Scorsese, who directed such great concert films as "The Last Waltz" and "Shine A Light". A concert feature wouldn't have been a bad idea either. Patti Smith fans would have enjoyed it, and those who aren't familiar with her work would be introduced to her great songs, energetic stage presence, and appealing personality. If the filmmakers had any inclination on a focal point to base this documentary around, it would have made for a far more energetic take on the first true alternative artist.
With all that said, it's difficult for me to recommend this picture. Die-hard Patti Smith fans may like it, but better editing would have brought this documentary to greater heights.
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