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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The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

May 16th marks the 100th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s birth and an occasion to memorialize one of the most prolific writers and cultural critics in the history of Chicago letters. As an author, broadcaster and oral historian, legendary Chicagoan Studs Terkel celebrated the lives of ordinary Americans. Some of Terkel’s many friends and fans are hoping to return the favor with a series of events marking the 100th birthday of a man whose work is a chronicle of the 20th century.

The Studs Terkel Centenary, a group headed up by Terkel’s friends, including Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Kogan, on Saturday will rededicate the Division Street Bridge, which was named after Terkel 20 years ago. On Wednesday, The Newberry Library will host a birthday party featuring guest speakers who will share stories about Studs. Terkel’s friends will ensure that his memory lives on with a day of Studs-only programming on WFMT-FM on his birthday, with performances of passages from Terkel’s 2001 book Will the Circle Be Unbroken? at Steppenwolf Theatre next week and by phoning in personal anecdotes about Terkel to a hotline set up by Chicago’s Hull House Museum.

A Tribute: Remembering Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel: The Human Voice (StoryCorps)

Remembering Studs Terkel: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The New York Times reported that Chicago’s legendary Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the enthusiastic host of a popular nationally syndicated radio show on WFMT-FM in Chicago, died at his home at the age of 96.

In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr. Terkel relied on his effusive but gentle interviewing style to bring forth in rich detail the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens. For more than the four decades, Studs produced a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular.

Division Street: America (1966), his first best seller, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974).

Mr. Terkel’s book The Good War: An Oral History of World War II won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. In Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977), Terkel turned the microphone on himself to produce an engaging memoir. In Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992) and Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995), he reached for his ever-present tape recorder for interviews on race relations in the United States and the experience of growing old.

In 1985, a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized his books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.” The amiable Mr. Terkel was a gifted and seemingly tireless interviewer who elicited provocative insights and colorful, detailed personal histories from a broad mix of people. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

Readers of his books could only guess at Mr. Terkel’s interview style. Listeners to his daily radio show, which was first broadcast on WFMT-FM in 1958, got the full flavor as Studs, with both breathy eagerness and a tough-guy Chicago accent, went after the straight dope from guests like Sir Georg Solti, Muhammed Ali, Mahalia Jackson, the young Dob Dylan, Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem.

The entire New York Times article can be read here.

Rick Kogan has written a detailed article in The Chicago Tribune, which can be read here.

Studs Terkel’s website at The Chicago Historical Society can be accessed here.

Studs Terkel’s (1970) WFMT-FM radio interview with me (Patrick Zimmerman) can be heard here. Parts of this radio interview later become a selection (pp. 489-493) in Terkel’s acclaimed book, Working:

Audio: Part I of The Radio Interview

Audio: Part II of The Radio Interview

Studs Terkel: Remembering His Life and Times

Conversations about Studs Terkel (2004)

Studs Terkel: About the Human Spirit (2002)

Studs Terkel: The Pioneering Broadcaster

Music Audio: Mavis Staples/Hard Times

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A Theater of Manners: Portraits of the Wealthy, Social Nobility and Politically Powerful

Jim Dow, “The Dining Room, Morgan Library, New York City” (1999 / 2010)

Jim Dow, “The Library, Metropolitan Club, New York City” (1999 / 2010)

Jim Dow, “The New York Society Library, NYC”

Annie Leibovitz, “Queen Elizabeth II” (2007)

Martin Parr, France. Paris, “Haute Couture” (2007)

Daniela Rossell, “Paulina with Lion, Mexico”

A Theater of Manners: Portraits of the Wealthy, Social Nobility and Politically Powerful

Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures is a collection of photographs showing the seldom seen hidden lives of the wealthy, social nobility and politically powerful persons of our times. The collection is currently on exhibition at The CCCS, Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, in Florence, Italy. The images portray the representatives of a social class that normally exercises careful control over the circulation of pictures of its members, whether in the form of family photographs or of official portraits.  The photographs unveil the game of social roles and attitudes conducted by the subjects, a veritable Theater of Manners, which demands enough sensitivity on the viewers’ part for them to focus on those details in the pictures that render hidden and non-immediately obvious features visible.

In addition, many of the photographs present an authentic and rare view of the architecture, furnishings and frameworks of some of the most exclusive private circles of New York City, circles that have a long and significant history, such as the renowned Metropolitan Club. Though there are over twenty such circles of this kind in New York City, outsiders will very seldom notice their presence. Presently, an increasing number of politicians and businessmen are choosing to meet in these secluded rooms, which public opinion often perceives as places of intrigue and the setting for various kinds of secret appointments. The photographs give a face to these exclusive meeting places, inviting viewers to  admire the timeless opulence of their rooms.

Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures

Slide Show: Theater of Manners/Portraits of the Wealthy, Nobility and Politically Powerful

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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Green to Blue: A Modest View of a Serious Problem

Green to Blue: A Modest View of a Serious Problem

Green to Blue is an animated short, which was named to the Top-Ten Shortlist of Friends of the Earth’s 2008 one-minute film competition. Green to Blue is a stop-motion animation that was made to promote global warming awareness. Elizabeth Klein, the film’s creator, explained that, “I made this stop motion to promote global warming awareness. Sometimes the simplest messages are the most powerful, so I’ve tried to present a child-like view of a serious problem.”

Green to Blue: A Modest View of a Serious Problem

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AIG Greed Redux: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

AIG Greed Redux: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

A national outcry of public outrage has forced the Obama administration to take action on the large bonuses that AIG has given to a group of its executives. The bonuses that AIG has distributed went to the very group of employees whose risky trades brought the company to the brink of collapse. “It’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay,” Obama said at the outset of an appearance to announce help for small businesses hurt by the deep recession. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat,” the president said.

The whole debacle of the greed displayed by AIG, as well as by some large banks that recently received large sums of bailout money from the government, is reminiscent of the simultaneous collapse of both the French trading arm and royal bank in the early 1700s. That collapse has been described as “John Law and the Mississippi Bubble.” John Law was a Scottish economist who believed that money was only a means of exchange that did not constitute wealth in itself and that national wealth depended on trade. During the reign of Louis XIV, John Law set up France’s Banque Générale Privée (“General Private Bank”), which developed the use of paper money. Many have considered Law to be little more than a colorful con man, responsible for the Mississippi Bubble and the chaotic economic collapse in France.

Richard Condie’s 1978 animated short film, John Law and the Mississippi Bubble, offers up a history lesson about that sensational get-rich-quick scheme, which took place in France over 200 years ago. The film won the Best Film Award at the 1980 International Short Film Festival in Tampere, Finland. With economist John Law at the helm, the plan was to open a national French bank and exchange bank notes for gold at wildly inflated share prices to mask the fact that the country’s gold had been depleted in the building of Louis XIV’s palace. In the film, when the inevitable rush to cash in the notes takes place, poor John Law is left broke and broken-hearted.

It was one of the most sensational get-rich-quick schemes heard of in a long time, but it eventually burst over the head of its originator, John Law. This “rags to riches to rags” story, in which the plan was to open a bank and exchange banknotes (paper!) for gold at wildly inflated share prices, ends when John Law, having been cleaned out as a result of a rush to cash in the notes, is left broke and broken-hearted.

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

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Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

Pure Detroit is a short film by Ivan George with gorgeous cinematography, but also one which confronts the viewer with dramatic images of the effects that rapid economic and social change can have upon urban life. The impact of the film has been described as somewhere between heaven, hell and quiet meditation. While Pure Detroit is a beautiful visual mood piece, it’s also incredibly sad. The film reveals so much about the rapid changes we’re encountering in our world right now, how the old things gets broken much faster than new things are put in their place. Pure Detroit serves as a powerful reminder of what the old things breaking down can be like for so many of us.

Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

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Dogged Fameball Ego-Blobber Julia Allison Airs on Most Obscure TV Channel Ever!

Dogged Fameball Ego-Blobber Julia Allison Airs on Most Obscure TV Channel Ever!

Gawker reports that the never-ending ego-blobber Julia Allison has just informed them of some amazing, breaking world news: Her videoblog, TMIweekly, has been picked up by NBC’s New York Nonstop. Now, this turns out to be highly appropriate, because New York Nonstop is certainly as close as it gets to the edge of internet obscurity, while still letting one claim to be on television. This makes it quite a suitable perch for the vapid, irrelevant musings of Allison, an inappropriately well-known dating columnist for Time Out New York, and her two cohorts, Silicon Valley heiress Meghan Asha Parikh and vapid handbag designer Mary Rambin. The episodes of TMIweekly, Allison’s videoblog, have featured the goofy trio blathering on and on about totally uninteresting aspects of their lives (just imagine very bad Twittering, only videotaped).

It’s all part of their faux-business called NonSociety. Allison recently reported that NonSociety had taken in revenues of $60,000 during all of 2008. Calculating with an advanced business metric known as earnings before expenses, that would give NonSociety’s three pseudo-socialite Foundresses a living-level that’s just slightly above minimum wage. Now, whatever NBC is paying Allison for her 24×7 filler, it’s certainly too much, as NBC’s own officials seem to realize! Meredith McGinn, Senior Manager of Special Products for NBC4, explained to the New York Daily News: “You’ll get your meat, your news, weather and headlines-every 15 minutes. In between those 15 minutes, you may have a two-minute segment, a two-minute pod, a five-minute pod. So the shows we’re looking at are in little bits, not your traditional half-hour newscasts.”

So the news is the meat, which makes TMIweekly what, exactly? Shredded lettuce? Mayo? Anything, surely, except relish. So rather than force-feed you to watch even one awful episode of Julia Allison’s TMIweekly, here’s Gawker videographer Richard Blakeley’s much funnier parody-spoof, Welcome to NomSociety:

Julia Allison and Cohorts: Welcome To NomSociety

Thanks to Gawker.

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