Dear Patti Smith,
Thank you for being the headline act of The Melbourne International Arts Festival. For those of us not old enough to remember when it all began, with Horses in 1975, and who had never seen you perform live, we were particularly spoiled.
I saw you perform “My Blakean Year” three times. In your session with Philip Glass, Dedication to Allen Ginsberg you told a story of Allen's last hours. You said that when he was sleeping his last sleep you walked around his New York loft. You picked a book, a red book, at random and it was a book of William Blake's poetry. Around the edges, on all the white text, Allen had written commentary. You thought it was especially poignant because Blake had done the same thing to the English poet, Milton's Paradise Lost.
In that performance, in memory of your teacher and friend, you were generous and humble, passionate and gentle. Contradictory, yes. Disputable, no. Which made it all the more strange that someone asked you whether you 'cultivate' your image at the Q and A after a screening of Steven Sebring's feature documentary, Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Yet you were gracious in your answer to this question. You don't 'cultivate' anything – you have always been and remain, like you recite in 'Babelogue' on Easter (1978), “in heart an American artist”.
You said that the documentary is the result of collaboration between photographer/director, Steven Sebring and yourself undertaken over 11 years. Editing for another, you said it was like “playing with Marcel Duchamp”. When you wanted the filming to draw to a conclusion, you sat in the corner of a room surrounded with objects that were special and you show them to us, one by one. Robert Mapplethorpe's ashes. The guitar that Bob Dylan tuned. Your paintings. You play records for us. You take us to the house that you grew up in. We watch you dance on Arthur Rimbaud's grave.
You say that Patti Smith: Dream of Life is not a rock-documentary and if I had to classify it all I'd call it in an art-documentary; a beautifully photographed film that doesn't follow any of the conventional rules of linearity, story, space or time. In his book, Sculpting In Time, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote, “not all prose can be transferred to the screen”. Patti Smith: Dream of Life is that transference — a meditation on your prose, your life and your music that provides the opportunity to enrich our own.
Steven Sebring's Patti Smith: Dream of Life DVD, with bonus footage, deleted scenes & theatrical trailer can be pre-ordered from Madman Entertainment now.