The 25-years-in-the-making documentary on Patti Smith – Dream of Life – is shot in a style equal parts late 60’s art film and late 90’s Japanese horror. Think Ringu meets Fellini. It isn’t a this happened, then this happened, then this happened sort of thing but instead a collage of a life and inspiration. As a person who can watch live footage of Rock and Roll Nigger until Rimbaud rises from the grave, this film gives much to appreciate and admire. One performance of an inspired reading, punk style, of the Declaration of Independence followed by an exorcism of evil spirit of George W. Bush is a scene for the ages, to say nothing of the wonderful anti-war footage. (Historians, let it be noted, please, that many of us – millions of us – took to the street in opposition to George Bush. It wasn’t all passive, roll-over-play-dead, though that seems to be the emerging narrative of the first 8 years of this wicked decade.)
Smith herself is endlessly fascinating. Clearly operating in that borderland between artistic genius and utter lunatic, her musings inspire and provoke, and anything that would sound pretentious out of anyone else, from Smith, instead sounds utterly sincere and heart-warming. We counted references to those who had inspired – her bloodlines – and we got a lot of Rimbaud, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Blake, Whitman, Shelley, Maplethorpe, Keats. We got Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Michael Stipe, Bono. Of women, hardly a whisper, with two exceptions: Sylvia Plath and Billie Holiday. Which says so much. (Of Billie Holiday, the best and most amazing description of the movie, the “mystical lethargy of Billie Holiday,” says Patti Smith.)
A Patti Smith download and a Billie Holiday download follows.