Dream of Life: An Elegantly Impressionistic Portrait of Patti Smith

Dream of Life: An Elegantly Impressionistic Portrait of Patti Smith

Patti Smith: Dream of Life, directed and mostly shot by Steven Sebring, is an elegantly impressionistic portrait of the punk godhead, Patti Smith, which was created over a heroic period of 11-years. The film has barely begun before Patti has offered forth a life’s worth of headline news, a strategy that allows Mr. Sebring and Ms. Smith, who is as much a collaborator as a subject, to fill the next 100 or so minutes with fragmented beauty and song.

For the most part, the film is a song of life, alternately joyous and elegiac, warm and vibrantly present, a mosaic of moods and moments from one woman’s richly lived time on earth. Against the odds and other punk rockers’ self-destructive tendencies, Ms. Smith didn’t die young or succumb to the usual rock clichés.

Patti Smith: The Early Years

Patti Smith was born in Chicago in 1948 and grew up in Woodbury, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Patti did a brief stint as a factory worker, which convinced her to move to New York City to pursue a life in the arts. Soon after her arrival, she connected with the young photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met while working at a book store. This was a close friendship that she maintained until his death in 1989. In 1969 she went to Paris with her sister and started doing performance art. When Smith returned to New York City, she lived in the Chelsea Hotel with Mapplethorpe, and they began frequenting the then fashionable Max’s Kansas City and CBGB nightclubs.

She helped put New York’s punk-rock landmark CBGB on the map. She organized The Patti Smith Group and in 1975 released her debut album, Horses, to critical acclaim. Produced by John Cale, the album was described as an original mixture of exhortatory rock & roll, Smith’s poetry, vocal mannerisms inspired by Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, and the band’s energetically rudimentary playing. In 1976, Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas oversaw the Patti Smith Group’s second album, Radio Ethiopia, and the result was a more bombastic guitar-heavy record, tempered by the title cut, the height of Smith’s improvised free rock.

Grief and Mourning

After an almost nine-year hiatus, Smith returned to recording with the 1988 album Dream of Life, the work of a more mellow, but still rebellious songwriter. Smith’s comeback album was co-produced by her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, with songs that included her call-to-arms, People Have the Power.

Patti Smith: People Have the Power

In 1994, her husband died of a heart attack at age 45. A month later, her younger brother (and former road manager), Todd, also died of a heart attack. Her longtime friend Robert Mapplethorpe had already died of AIDS in 1989. Determined to carry on as a tribute to the encouragement her husband and brother had shown her before their passing, Smith performed a string of opening dates with Bob Dylan in late 1995 and issued the intensely personal Gone Again in 1996. The album offered a potent mix of songs about mourning and rebirth, reflecting Smith’s belief that the beauty of life survives death.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life

But another eight years would pass before her second artistic comeback, marked by a trio of acclaimed albums released in quick succession, which found her fighting her way out of a period of intense personal grief stemming from the loss of several of the most important people in her life. The documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Dream of Life: An Elegantly Impressionistic Portrait of Patti Smith (Part 1)

Dream of Life: An Elegantly Impressionistic Portrait of Patti Smith (Part 1)

Behind the Lens: Filmmaker Steven Sebring and Patti Smith (PBS Documentary)

Read more about Dream of Life in the New York Times here.

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A Tribute to the Legacy of New York’s Lower East Side

The Lower East Side: Mars Bar Secrets

The Lower East Side: Fuchsia

Roundball on West Fourth Street: Muscle Chests in Shadings of Gray

The Bowery: A Solitary Meal

The Bowery’s CBGB: R.I.P. Hilly

A Tribute to the Legacy of New York’s Lower East Side

Photography by:  Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

This multi-media piece on the legacy of New York’s Lower East Side, comprised of photographs, a slide show and a documentary short, initially appears to assume the form of a parody.  However, beneath the humorously droll surface of the composition, another layer reveals a more serious message.  It is a genuinely sincere remembrance for the spiritual heritage of New York City and  the Lower East Side before they were forever changed by the waves of rapid and often greedy gentrification, which took hold in the 1980s and quickly accelerated during the 2000s.  The energy and camaraderie of the people who over multi-generations banded together in the face of suffering and adversity is truly captivating.

Over the last 100 years, the East Village/Lower East Side neighborhood has served as the first home for cultural icons who have included financial barons, political leaders and national celebrities in the performing arts.  Andy Warhol and his Superstars, important folk, punk, rock, anti-folk and hip-hop music emerged from this area, as well as advanced education, organized activism, experimental theater and the Beat Generation.   Club 57, on St. Mark’s Place, was an important incubator for performance and visual art in the late 1970s and early 1980s, followed shortly by 8BC as the East Village art gallery scene helped to galvanize modern art in America, with such artists as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons exhibiting.  The East Village is also the setting for Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent, which is set in the early 1990s and follows a group of friends as they spend a year struggling against AIDS, poverty, and drug abuse.

I have documented elsewhere a historical review of the area’s contributions to the literary and performing arts, as well as the struggles which have been undertaken in recent years to keep the memories of its artistic gifts alive.

A Remembrance for the Legacy of New York’s Lower East Side

Slide Show: A Tribute to the Legacy of New York’s Lower East Side

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Patti Smith’s Objects of Life: Melancholy Meditations

Patti Smith’s Objects of Life: Melancholy Meditations

In 2008, Patti Smith was the subject of Patti Smith: Land 250 at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporaine, Paris.  This short film was Patti Smith’s introduction to her rich multi-layered installation at Fondation Cartier in Paris, which reflected 40 years of her more personal visual art-making and creative expression.  Her most recent photographic exhibition, Objects of Life, opened in New York City in January, 2010.  Inspired by the process of discovery during 11 years of filming, this installation features a selection of photographs, video, and a rare unseen painting by Smith, as well as some of her  personal belongings.

The short film from Patti Smith’s 2008 appearance at the Fondation Cartier, photographs from that installation, photographs from her new exhibition, Objects of Life, and an extensive slide show that includes photographs from both exhibitions are presented below.

Patti’s Smith Polaroids: Melancholy Meditations

Slide Show: Patti Smith’s Objects of Life/Melancholy Meditations

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The World of Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Dream of Life: An Intimate Portrait of Patti Smith

A Meditation on Aging and Mortality

Patti Smith: Dream of Life is a film that’s been 12 years in the making, a work that reveals an intimate, impressionistic portrait of a woman who is still blazing her own trail through late middle age, a woman who has seen and suffered great loss and who is perhaps the only major surviving connection from New York City’s Beat generation, to the 1970s Manhattan art scene, to the birth of punk, to the present.  For the most part, the film has been described as a paean to life, resoundingly joyous and elegiac, warm and vibrantly present, a collage of moods and moments from one immensely talented woman’s richly lived time on earth. Patti Smith arrived in the big city 40 years ago and made her first residence in a room at The Chelsea Hotel, which in those days was also home to William S. Burroughs, Jefferson Airplane, Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and some of the Warhol crowd. Patti soon became the muse, friend and partner of Robert Mapplethorpe, became a poet, then a performance poet, then an underground rock musician and then a rock star.  She left the stage and the city to settle down in Michigan as a wife and mother. Then, following the 1994 death of her husband, the musician Fred “Sonic” Smith, she returned to New York City, to music, to poetry and to political activism.

Dream of Life is a beautiful and occasionally haunting artistic creation, a meditation on aging and mortality, an intimate study of an unusual kind of fame and the portrait of a genuinely remarkable person. The film was received with great acclaim at The Sundance Film Festival last year, as well as in Berlin and all over the film-festival world.

The videos presented below include a video comprised of  number of vignettes from the longer documentary, the official trailer of Patti Smith: Dream of Life, a short documentary about Patti smith and Robert Maplethorpe, and a video about the Chelsea Hotel.  This piece also presents two photo-galleries.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Shot over 11 years by renowned fashion photographer Steven Sebring, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an intimate portrait of the legendary rocker, poet and artist.  Following Smith’s personal reflections over a decade, the film explores her many art forms and the friends and poets who inspired her, including: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Robert Mapplethorpe and Michael Stipe.  She emerges as a crucial, contemporary link between the Beats, Punks and today’s music.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (PBS/POV Trailer)

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe: A Documentary

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe is a documentary short that provides rare glimpse of Patti Smith’s remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe during the epochal days of New York City and The Chelsea Hotel during the late nineteen-sixties and seventies.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe: A Documentary

Slide Show: Dream of Life

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

Biographic Notes: A Portrait of One Woman’s Rich Life

Patti Smith: The Early Years

Patti Smith was born in Chicago in 1948 and grew up in Woodbury, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Patti did a brief stint as a factory worker, which convinced her to move to New York City to pursue a life in the arts.  Soon after her arrival, she connected with the young photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met while working at a book store. This was a close friendship that she maintained until his death in 1989. In 1969 she went to Paris with her sister and started doing performance art.   When Smith returned to New York City, she lived in The Chelsea Hotel with Mapplethorpe, and they began frequenting the then fashionable Max’s Kansas City and CBGB nightclubs.

She helped put New York’s punk-rock landmark CBGB on the map, at a time when New York’s East Village was becoming a burgeoning center of experimental artistic creativity. She organized The Patti Smith Group and in 1975 released her debut album, Horses, to critical acclaim. Produced by John Cale, the album was described as an original mixture of exhortatory rock & roll, Smith’s poetry, vocal mannerisms inspired by Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, and the band’s energetically rudimentary playing. In 1976, Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas oversaw the Patti Smith Group’s second album, Radio Ethiopia, and the result was a more bombastic guitar-heavy record, tempered by the title cut, the height of Smith’s improvised free rock.  After an almost nine-year hiatus, Smith returned to recording with the 1988 album Dream of Life, the work of a more mellow, but still rebellious songwriter. Smith’s comeback album was co-produced by her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, with songs that included her call-to-arms, People Have the Power.

Grief and Mourning

In 1994, her husband died of a heart attack at the age of 45. Just a month later, her younger brother (and former road manager) Todd, also died of a heart attack. Her longtime friend and companion Robert Mapplethorpe had already died of AIDS in 1989. Determined to carry on as a tribute to the encouragement that her husband and brother had shown her before their passings, Smith performed a string of opening dates with Bob Dylan in late 1995 and issued the intensely personal Gone Again in 1996.  The album offered a potent mix of songs about mourning and rebirth, reflecting Smith’s belief that the beauty of life survives death.

But another eight years would pass by before her second artistic comeback, marked by a trio of acclaimed albums released in quick succession, which found her fighting her way out of a period of intense personal grief stemming from the loss of several of the most important people in her life. The documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and is currently opening in theaters nationwide and in Europe.

Life in The Chelsea Hotel: A Documentary

People are always asking what it’s like to live in The Chelsea Hotel.  Well, it’s not always easy. There are times when you can end up feeling felt like a fly caught in a spider’s web, at risk of being eaten alive if you make the wrong move.

Life in The Chelsea Hotel: A Documentary

Audio: Bob Dylan/Farewell

Slide Show: New York City’s Elegant Dowager/The Chelsea Hotel

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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Andy Warhol’s Cinema: A Mirror to the Sixties

Andy Warhol’s Cinema: A Mirror to the Sixties

“Warhol’s Cinema” from The Factory: 1963-1968

Warhol’s Cinema is a 1989 BBC-TV Channel 4 documentary about a number of films made Andy Warhol in the 1960s. During the five year span of his obsession with films, Warhol made more than 50 films between 1963-1968. Most of his movies were 16-millimeter films and included Chelsea Girls, Empire, Sleep, Kiss, My Hustler and Lonesome Cowboys. He made many of the films in his mid-town studio, known as The Factory, where the young people in his offbeat cortège, alternately beautiful and bizarre, spent much or most of their time. That group of followers included, among many others, Baby Jane Holzer, Gerard Malanga, Paul America, Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dellasandro, Chuck Weir and Edie Sedgwick.

Warhol’s Shiny Silver Tin-Foil Factory

Andy Warhol’s original Factory was often thought of as the Silver Factory by the people who came to derive a sense of attachment from being involved in or even just hanging around the sense of creative excitement that was evolving there. This was amplified by the national social (and political) landscape at that time, where fragmentation was gaining increasing momentum. The sense of excitement around the Factory derived, to a large degree, from an energized feeling that it was possible to openly embrace a range of experiences that had previously been socially forbidden.

In this way, the shiny, shimmering silver represented the decadence of the scene, as well as the “proto-glam” of the early sixties. Silver, fractured mirrors and tin foil were the basic decorating materials loved by the early amphetamine users of the sixties. By combining the industrial structure of his unfurnished Factory art studio with the glitter of silver and what it represented, Warhol was commenting on American values, as he did so often in his art. The years spent at the Factory were known as the Silver Era, not solely because of its design, but also because of the decadent and carefree lifestyle full of money, parties, drugs and fame.

The Factory became a meeting place for a large number of artists and musicians such as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Brian Jones, Truman Capote, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, William Burroughs, Baby Jane Holzer, Anita Pallenberg, Philip Johnson and Mick Jagger. Other, less frequent visitors included Salvador Dalí, Tennessee Williams and Allen Ginsberg. At the same time, Warhol collaborated with Lou Reed’s influential New York rock band, The Velvet Underground, and in 1965 he designed the famous cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico, the band’s debut album. Paradoxically, however, no matter how rose-colored the glasses, the silvery glitter was after all only tawdry tin foil. In this sense, Warhol had built a sham to reflect the broader social sham that he claimed to be rejecting. Unfortunately, many members of his Factory entourage took the sham for real and paid dearly for it in or with their lives.

Andy Warhol’s Cinema: A Mirror to the Sixties

“Andy Warhol’s Cinema” from The Factory: 1963-1968

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Dream of Life: An Intimate Portrait of Patti Smith

Dream of Life: An Intimate Portrait of Patti Smith

Dream of Life: A Meditation on Aging and Mortality

Patti Smith: Dream of Life is a film that’s been 12 years in the making, a work that reveals an intimate, impressionistic portrait of a woman who is still blazing her own trail through late middle age, a woman who has seen and suffered great loss and who is perhaps the only major surviving connection from New York City’s Beat generation, to the 1970s Manhattan art scene, to the birth of punk, to the present.

For the most part, the film has been described as a paean to life, resoundingly joyous and elegiac, warm and vibrantly present, a collage of moods and moments from one immensely talented woman’s richly lived time on earth. Patti Smith arrived in the big city 40 years ago and made her first residence in a room at The Chelsea Hotel, which in those days was also home to William S. Burroughs, Jefferson Airplane, Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and some of the Warhol crowd. Patti soon became the muse, friend and partner of Robert Mapplethorpe, became a poet and then a performance poet and then an underground rock musician and then a rock star. She left the stage and the city to settle down in Michigan as a wife and mother. Then, following the 1994 death of her husband, the musician Fred “Sonic” Smith, she returned to New York City, to music, to poetry and to political activism.

Dream of Life is a beautiful and occasionally haunting artistic creation, a meditation on aging and mortality, an intimate study of an unusual kind of fame and the portrait of a genuinely remarkable person.  The film as received with great acclaim at The Sundance Film Festival last year, as well as in Berlin and all over the film-festival world.

The videos presented here include a short film comprised of  number of vignettes from the longer documentary, the official trailer of Patti Smith: Dream of Life and a short film about the Chelsea Hotel. Following the videos, biographic notes and a gallery of photographs about The Chelsea Hotel are presented.

The World of Patti Smith: Dream of Life

The World of Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (PBS/POV Trailer)

Biographic Notes: A Portrait of One Woman’s Richly Lived Time on Earth

Patti Smith: The Early Years

Patti Smith was born in Chicago in 1948 and grew up in Woodbury, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Patti did a brief stint as a factory worker, which convinced her to move to New York City to pursue a life in the arts. Soon after her arrival, she connected with the young photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met while working at a book store. This was a close friendship that she maintained until his death in 1989. In 1969 she went to Paris with her sister and started doing performance art. When Smith returned to New York City, she lived in The Chelsea Hotel with Mapplethorpe, and they began frequenting the then fashionable Max’s Kansas City and CBGB nightclubs.

She helped put New York’s punk-rock landmark CBGB on the map, at a time when New York’s East Village was becoming a burgeoning center of experimental artistic creativity. She organized The Patti Smith Group and in 1975 released her debut album, Horses, to critical acclaim. Produced by John Cale, the album was described as an original mixture of exhortatory rock & roll, Smith’s poetry, vocal mannerisms inspired by Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, and the band’s energetically rudimentary playing. In 1976, Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas oversaw the Patti Smith Group’s second album, Radio Ethiopia, and the result was a more bombastic guitar-heavy record, tempered by the title cut, the height of Smith’s improvised free rock.

After an almost nine-year hiatus, Smith returned to recording with the 1988 album Dream of Life, the work of a more mellow, but still rebellious songwriter. Smith’s comeback album was co-produced by her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, with songs that included her call-to-arms, People Have the Power.

Grief and Mourning

In 1994, her husband died of a heart attack at the age of 45. Just a month later, her younger brother (and former road manager) Todd, also died of a heart attack. Her longtime friend and companion Robert Mapplethorpe had already died of AIDS in 1989.  Determined to carry on as a tribute to the encouragement that her husband and brother had shown her before their passings, Smith performed a string of opening dates with Bob Dylan in late 1995 and issued the intensely personal Gone Again in 1996. The album offered a potent mix of songs about mourning and rebirth, reflecting Smith’s belief that the beauty of life survives death.

But another eight years would pass by before her second artistic comeback, marked by a trio of acclaimed albums released in quick succession, which found her fighting her way out of a period of intense personal grief stemming from the loss of several of the most important people in her life. The documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and is currently opening in theaters nationwide and in Europe.

Life in The Chelsea Hotel: A Documentary

People are always asking what it’s like to live in The Chelsea Hotel.  Well, it’s not always easy. There are times when you can end up feeling felt like a fly caught in a spider’s web, at risk of being eaten alive if you make the wrong move.

Life in The Chelsea Hotel: A Documentary

Audio: Bob Dylan/Farewell

New York City’s Elegant Dowager: The Chelsea Hotel/ Dream of Life

(Please Click Image to View the Slide Show)

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The Cannes Film Festival Premiers “Chelsea on the Rocks”

The Cannes Film Festival Premiers “Chelsea on the Rocks”

Noted in The Huffington Post

Chelsea on the Rocks, the new documentary about New York City’s Chelsea Hotel, premiered last Friday at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) threaded together archival footage and interviews with many of the artists, writers and actors who have lived there, in typical documentary fashion.

He also hired actors to play Janis Joplin and Sid Vicious, both of whom battled drugs and demons during their stays there. Leonard Cohen wrote a song about a sexual encounter with Joplin on an unmade bed there. And the Chelsea is where Vicious’ girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, died of a stab wound. The Chelsea has been a mecca for bohemia for decades, attracting brilliant, often desperate and doomed artists. Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Arthur Miller and Arthur C. Clarke are just a few of the greats who spent time there.

Actor Dennis Hopper, who stayed there early in his career, told reporters at the Cannes festival, “We were all living on the edge, the edge of what, I’m not sure, but we were living on the edge of it. A number of us fell in the hole, and some of us stood on the rim, and some of us got out of there,” he said. “But it was a really special, exciting time, and I’ll always cherish it.”

Ferrara’s film includes interviews with actor Ethan Hawke, who sings a song he wrote during a stay at the hotel, Hopper, director Milos Forman and cartoonist R. Crumb. Another important figure is Stanley Bard, who ran the hotel for nearly five decades, helping many artists along the way. Bard was pushed aside last year in a management change that has left residents worried that the Chelsea Hotel is destined to quickly become just another standard Manhattan boutique hotel. Bard’s departure, and fears for the hotel’s soul, are the backdrop for the documentary.

Chelsea On The Rocks: A Documentary by Abel Ferrara

Rufus Wainright Sings Chelsea Hotel#2

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