Patti Smith, Dream of Life is no ordinary rockumentary or biopic.
But because of this, it may have lost some of its general appeal in exchange for an adherence to an ideal. The film develops as a steam of consciousness, which makes it hard to follow. Scenes are connected tangentially, leaving the audience confused.
Director Steven Sebring followed Patti Smith, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist who is often labeled as the Godmother of punk, for 11 years to shoot the film for Dream of Life. The documentary jumps sporadically around those 11 years in an attempt to frame Smith's mind and give the audience insight into her thought process. There is plenty of fascinating footage, including her interactions backstage with her band mates before shows and her at a political rally in Washington, D.C. Smith's narration is the one constant and helps connect the varying scenes-- slightly.
Smith is a very politically active artist and Sebring highlights this throughout the film. Her belief system parallels the 1970s peace and love mentality and is fascinating in its purity. But beyond that, for a movie with the artist in the title, it doesn't do nearly enough to explain who Smith was and why she was important. Audiences expecting this from Dream of Life will come away disappointed. However, because the film focuses so heavily on Smith's own thoughts and interactions, the film provides an intimate portrait of Smith for fans.
Sebring shot the movie beautifully and it's hard not to admire the artistic way every scene is filmed. This makes sense-- Sebring is a fashion photographer who met Smith on the set of a Spin magazine photo shoot. Despite constant changes between colour-tinted film, black and white and standard colour, the artistic style of the movie is not distracting, but rather complements the content.
Dream of Life is a bit long at just under two hours, but there are plenty of great moments interspersed in the film to keep the audience's attention.
Sebring's film maybe wasn't meant for a general audience, but its beautiful visual style and captivating subject matter is enough to keep people interested. Just don't go in expecting to learn everything about Patti Smith, that's just what another standard biopic would do.