I have to admit upfront that I don’t know much about Patti Smith, the rock singer-songwriter, poet and artist. Coming out of the theatre after Steven Sebring’s documentary Dream of Life, I can’t say that I now know that much more, especially in the details of why she came to perform, why she retired briefly in the 80s and why she’s still rocking at the age of 61. Instead, Sebring presents a beautifully shot 11-year portrait of this woman’s day to day existence, without falling into the trap of presenting an argument for why she is an iconic figure. Patti Smith is just Patti Smith, a woman who goes to visit her parents (her father asks Smith to speak up because he’s hard of hearing from her concerts), takes a carriage ride in Central Park with her daughter, and visits the grave of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. She takes photos of seemingly everything, finding angles and subjects everywhere around her. Yet at other times, she can be found headlining concerts and talking about successful and unusual make-shift toilets with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the beach. U2′s Bono is at the sidelines of one of her concerts. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe is on the tour. But none of these events or relationships comes across as glaring rock star moments in Patti Smith’s life. Sebring instead gives us a wonderful doc to look at, an interesting artist/singer/songwriter/poet to follow, and if I don’t learn about the deeper recesses of Smith’s mind, that’s fine by me.
And since the doc follows Smith through her older years, I suggest for anyone interested in seeing an earlier incarnation of Smith, to check out this hilarious less-than-stellar interview with her from 1979.