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Palm Pictures presents
Patti Smith: Dream Of Life (2008)

"As long as I can remember, I sought to be free."
- Patti Smith

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 12, 2009

Stars: Patti Smith
Other Stars: Lenny Kaye, Oliver Ray, Tony Shanahan, Jay Dee Daughtery, Jackson Smith, Jessie Smith, Tom Verlaine, Sam Shepard, Philip Glass, Benjamin Smoke, Flea
Director: Steven Sebring

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: 01h:49m:14s
Release Date: January 13, 2009
UPC: 660200316624
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Patti Smith is one of the few musicians I can think of who has transcended being someone who only makes music. She's a poet, an artist, and someone who doesn't just write songs, but cuts her wrists and bleeds it all out (figuratively, of course). Since achieving fame with the 1975 classic Horses, Smith has worn the unwieldy "punk rock priestess" moniker like an unwelcome bit of bling, and as she's grown older her catalog has matured with an appropriate level of fury, wisdom, and hope. She's only had a couple of measurable radio hits—as if that really counts for anything—yet she has continually remained true to herself, and that's alright with me.

Dream Of Life is a documentary shot on 16mm over an 11-year period by her friend, photographer Steven Sebring. The film unspools like a combination home movie and stream of conciousness, held together by sporadic Smith voiceover that traces her history. Mostly it is Sebring capturing his subject as she moves through her life. When we see the inside of her home, it somehow looks exactly as I expected it would: a bit messy (but in a homey way), full of discordant heaps of assorted things, as if some type of art was constantly being made there. She strums guitars with actor/friend Sam Shepard and chuckles on the beach with Red Hot Chili Pepper's Flea, but Dream Of Life is a connect-the-dots of Smith's life, from her childhood through the CBGB days, to her marriage to MC5 guitarist Fred Smith and their two children, and how Fred's death pushed her on somehow.

This isn't a nice and neat rock history bio-pic, so those looking for a concise history lesson might want to wait for a more linear VH-1 special. It meanders, it sometimes rambles a bit, but we're seeing Smith unfettered, and her honesty and sincerity about her work has a striking humility about it, almost as if she doesn't get the impact she had on music. She expounds on her love of Bob Dylan, William Blake, and Rimbaud, she appears to have a fascination with vintage cameras, she visits her parents home; there's a real comfort level between Smith and Sebring's camera, and through it she becomes more than just a performer. We get to see inside.

I won't softsoap the fact that I'm a fan of Smith, and I'll wager that had some affect on my enjoyment of this documentary. If you're not a fan—or at the very least familiar with her work—Dream Of Life certainly may not resonate with the same kind of revelatory urgency. Sebring seems to have assembled Dream Of Life as a collection rather than a feature, and the content is presented much like the subject herself, as moments that, when connected, become a mosaic of Smith's life. This is not an act; this is not a marketing caricature.

This is Smith, as she is.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Shot largely on 16mm, Sebring's mostly black-and-white footage has the expected rough and arty edges. All sorts of heavy grain is evident, and edge details are soft, with occasional stylized contrast issues. Palm's 1.781:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer appears to treat the source material as it was intended, with all of the purposeful imperfections in place.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The back cover art of my screener promises 5.1 surround, but all I had to judge was 2.0 stereo, which also will be a supposed option. No complaints with the stereo track, as it delivers Smith's narration cleanly, while the assorted on-location interviews all come across equally clear. The occasional Smith performances also fare well, though I would anticipate a 5.1 mix will create a much wider soundstage.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 1 cues and remote access
Packaging: clear plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Palm's screener copy promises that additional supplements will be available on the final street version, but all I'm seeing with this advance copy is the film's theatrical trailer. Your mileage may—and in all likelihood will—vary.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Patti Smith might despise being referred to a rock icon, but that doesn't diminish the fact that she is what she is. Steven Sebring's behind the curtain doc—eleven years in the making—doesn't get maudlin and put Smith on a kneel-before-the-Queen pedestal, but instead allows viewers to see her for what she is. Poet. Musician. Artist. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Friend.

And damn it, she is an icon.

Highly recommended.


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