Patti Smith: Dream of Life

This was the official website for the 2008 film, Patti Smith: Dream of Life, an intimate portrait of poet, painter, musician and singer Patti Smith that mirrors the essence of the artist herself.
Content is from the site's archived pages as well as from other relevant outside sources.

RottenTomatoes Critics Consensus: Elegiac and personal, Patti Smith: Dream of Life paints an enduring and sometimes rough portrait of the titular chanteuse, complete with footage onstage and at home.

Patti Smith: It's really funny when people ask you about that - How does it feel to be a rock icon? When they say that, I always think of Mt. Rushmore.


Patti Smith Dream of Life: Trailer


WINNER of the Sundance Film Festival’s Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary and nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE reveals the fascinating world and mind of one of America’s most captivating and talented artists, Patti Smith.

MASTERFULLY SHOT AND DIRECTED BY STEVEN SEBRING, the film follows the singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist through her unique journey as a cultural icon and the experiences, influences and philosophies that inspire her past and present. Sebring artfully layers compelling interviews, performances, photographs, paintings and poems, narrated by the artist herself, and achieves a rare balance of both visually compelling footage and unprecedented intimacy.

-steven sebring



REVIEW New York Times

Rocker Patti Smith, 'Dream Of Life'

December 30, 200912:42 PM ET
Heard on Talk of the Nation

Working on a factory assembly line in New Jersey, a young Patti Smith had no idea she'd end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Steven Sebring and Patti Smith in Detroit in 1995.

In fact, as a teenager, she dreamed of being an opera singer, like Maria Callas, or a jazz singer, like June Christy or Chris Connor.

Instead, Smith found herself fronting her own punk rock band. The Patti Smith Group released their first album, Horses, in 1975.

Smith has since released multiple records, and "Because the Night," a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen, reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Smith and photographer-turned-filmmaker Steven Sebring talk about their POV documentary about her journey, Patti Smith: Dream of Life. They spent 11 years shooting footage, which features many of the friends and poets who inspired her, from William Burroughs to Michael Stipe.


A Legend as Muse: Patti Smith Fills Role

Published: December 20, 2009 New York Times

LOS ANGELES — There was a time, a decade ago, Patti Smith said, that she did not want to make a film about herself.
“To me the idea seems sort of conceited,” she said in an interview. “I felt, even though I was 50 years old at the time, too young to do a documentary. I hadn’t done enough work yet to merit a documentary.”

It turns out that being followed around by a camera for more than a decade can help one overcome shyness. On Dec. 30, Ms. Smith’s 63rd birthday, PBS will broadcast “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” a documentary filmed over 11 years by the fashion photographer and film neophyte Steven Sebring.

The broadcast, part of the PBS series “POV,” is but the first step in what appears to be an all-out blitz to erase any remaining notions that Ms. Smith has not done enough work yet. “Dream of Life” has already been screened at some 30 film festivals around the world, including the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it won an award for cinematography. The PBS broadcast will coincide with three nights of musical performances by Ms. Smith at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, to be followed in 2010 by performances in Detroit, Chicago and London.

A related art exhibition, “Objects of Life,” will open on Jan. 6 at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. And beginning Jan. 19, Ms. Smith will visit bookstores around the country in support of “Just Kids,” an autobiographical account of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, her close friend and fellow inhabitant of the Chelsea Hotel in New York in the late 1960s and ’70s.

Patti Smith burst onto the cultural landscape in the early 1970s with poetry readings in Lower Manhattan and several-times-a-week musical performances at a new downtown club called CBGB. Her 1975 debut album, “Horses,” is now viewed as a rock ’n’ roll classic.

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where she was inducted in 2007, the album is anchored by “vivid, disturbing imagery that poured from Smith in impassioned torrents.” It arrived, according to the museum, “at a time when rock ’n roll needed a jolt from its unadventurous rut and upwardly mobile arena-rock pretensions.”

“Dream of Life” provides glimpses into that creative prime of her life, via archival footage and film of recent performances captured by Mr. Sebring.

“I haven’t changed all that much as a performer,” Ms. Smith said. “I still have the same visions, and I still like to make a lot of noise and a lot of loud feedback on my guitar.”

But the film also delves much deeper. It begins with her goodbye to the house in Detroit where, in a retreat from fame into a new role as a mother, she lived for 16 years beginning in the early 1980s. From there the film documents Ms. Smith’s return to New York and to performing a decade ago, after a trio of unexpected deaths that affected her deeply — of her husband, the guitarist Fred Smith; of her brother, Todd; and of her longtime pianist, Richard Sohl.

“I had to leave Detroit,” Ms. Smith said in the interview, which took place in August, when PBS was promoting the film to television journalists. “I don’t drive, and I didn’t want to live in Detroit alone, and so I brought my children back to the East Coast.”

“But I had to get a job, to take care of them, and to send them to school,” she added. “You know it’s a lot more expensive to live in New York City than in Detroit. And so I went back to performing.”

She was encouraged by a few close friends: Bob Dylan, who drafted Ms. Smith to tour on the East Coast with him in 1995, and Allen Ginsberg and Michael Stipe, the R.E.M. frontman.

Those men are present, at least spiritually, in the film, as is Sam Shepard, who drops by her apartment for a tranquil jam session. But as the film critic Manohla Dargis wrote in reviewing “Dream of Life” in The New York Times in 2008, “If you want to know about punk, what it was like to play CBGB when it mattered (or on its final night, as Ms. Smith did in 2006), look elsewhere.” What the film presents is instead a dreamy atmosphere that, as Ms. Dargis wrote, “feels less like a documentary and more like an act of rapturous devotion.”

Mr. Sebring, who sat with Ms. Smith during the interview, said he basically made up his vision for the film as he went along.

“I’m not a historian, you know,” he said. “I didn’t have any set plan what it was going to be. As soon as we started cutting it, I knew it wasn’t going to be a typical documentary.”

He filmed performances and tours in Israel and Japan and Washington. And as he was editing the film, he set up a 16-millimeter camera in her bedroom to capture Ms. Smith telling stories about herself and her life.

“We were always in her bedroom,” Mr. Sebring said, “because that’s where she thinks, that’s where she creates, where she could show things and talk about them.”

Those scenes provide the film’s faint narrative, revealing a person who to many people under 40 is little more than a name or a stock character — “the godmother of punk,” as she is often called.

“My main hope for the film is that people see the work that Steven does, and that Steven is appreciated for the work,” Ms. Smith said. “My own personal hope is just that people get some sense that I have more dimensions than is sometimes reported. Sometimes all people know about you is, No. 1, your work, but through the media they often will be given one aspect of a human being.”

“I’m happy for people to get a more humanistic view,” she said. “I have a really great life. I’ve had, for me, really great tragedy in my life. I still mourn my people that I lost. I miss my husband. But I’ve had great opportunities in my life.”







**** Severin M
September 18, 2008
A simple, yet insightful look into the life of an exceptional artist. I would recommend this to everyone whether you are a Patti Smith fan or not. Saw this film with friends at a theater in the East Village which seemed only fitting since I've seen her perform live a number of times in NYC. The evening was also memorable since I arrived home after the film to find my cats sitting on the top of the sofa meowing since they couldn't get to their litter box. My upstairs neighbor had once again forgottan to turn off the water in her bathtub. My studio apartment was flooded with about three inches of water. The cats were marooned on the sofa. The area rugs would need to be cleaned once again. I had done my research for local rug cleaning companies since this was now the third time my place was flooded. Fortunately I already had found whom I felt was the best area rug cleaning Brooklyn company so I gave them a call that evening and the next day a representative came by for a free estimate and pick up. Thank you Pattie for providing such an enjoyable evening with your music, poetry and humorous insights into life's strange twists and turns. Compared to what Pattie Smith has endured, a flooded apartment for the third time is nothing, so I keep telling myself. Dream of Life is well worth a watch.

MORE: Moved to Australia just before the Covid 19 pandemic hit the country. Australia's second-largest city, Melbourne where I live, was in lockdown in response to a spike in new coronavirus infections several times. Melbourne's five million residents, me included were barred from leaving home for six weeks, except for essential reasons. 112 days later after the second lock down we emerged from our homes. The enforcing home confinement, travel restrictions and and closing stores and restaurants was really tough. I was lucky enough to be able to work from home, but the rest of the time I watched a lot of movies- yes I watched Patti Smith: Dream of Life again!, listened to a lot of music, and played hours of pokies (that's slots to you folks in the US) at my favorite Australian friendly online casino Uptown Pokies. I also would check each Thursday evening at to see the upcoming weekly promos of the casinos they promote. The casinos aren't all geared towards us Australian. My brother who lives in the US also checks out the site for the weekly promos for US players. If you're interested I suggest you take a look. You don't have to just like pokies. There are all sorts of other casino games to choose from. Well it's time to take a break and listen to some music from the 2019 album by Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith. Just love The New Revelations Of Being.



****½ Olli J
October 1, 2008
awesome if you are a fan.



**½ Clodagh D
September 29, 2008
Great to see her having a laugh, great to see her wigging out, great to see her family grow up..but oh! the ponderousness (I know they all feed into each other, but...)



** Reginald V
September 28, 2008
Less arty farty pretension and more music might have made this more palatable.



**** Asta A
September 28, 2008
Beautiful documentary



***** Katja L
September 26, 2008
A great documentary. Not anything you've come to expect from a "rock documentary". Very intimate storytelling and very beautiful images. You get the feeling that this film really looks and feels like Patti Smith. Poetic.



**** Emilia
September 25, 2008
patti, patti, patti. i love her. if i could be one thing, i'd be like her.



***½ Asa G
September 21, 2008
if you're interested in getting an intimate view of patti smith in her own voice, this is excellent. i only wish the director had kept a bearing on what he was trying to say in this epic documentary.



***½ John F
September 18, 2008
Unfocused but stunning: an atomic bomb of images, sounds, and documentary footage: while it lacks an experience you might crave, like a cinematic rebirth, it's still powerful.



*** Dalia D
August 27, 2008
Sometimes, I complain that documentaries about famous people are too linear. But sometimes, they can be over-impressionistic, like Steven Sebring's Patti Smith movie. Biography is summarized and done away with in the first few minutes of the picture, in Patti's plain voice layered over the diagetic sounds of a rattling train; we see the view out of its moving windows. The rest of the film continues to use this layering of sound; we see Patti singing one song, sitting on the floor of her room and strumming an old Gibson from the 1930s, but we hear her recorded voice singing a different song, for example. Almost as if the one sound wasn't enough. Which it may not be.

I knew little about Patti Smith before the movie, but don't know much more after it, except that she has a son and a daughter. What I did know I knew from watching an R.E.M. interview about their song E-Bow the Letter (perhaps my favorite-ever R.E.M. song, which features her voice). After that, I procured her album Horses (they mention it), but was kind of disappointed, or maybe just weirded out. Her voice is unquestionably stunning, far outstripping all other female voices of her generation. But her songs are not the most pristine showcases for that voice; on Horses, the trembling beauty is interrupted with spoken word (not so bad) and rhythmic shouting (not so good). I think it's safe to blame 1975 and its concomitant CBGB culture rather than Smith, though she remains completely unapologetic about being loud and visceral and angry when required.

What Sebring does is assemble ten year’s worth of footage from conversations, interviews, and mostly a lot of just hanging around into a lengthy montage, a kind of extended music video with some talking in between. For a fan, it is probably a whirling delight. For a curious, potentially interested listener who still needs to be convinced, it's not quite convincing.


**** Saija H
August 24, 2008
A poetic documentary of a poet and musician, an artist and mum.


**** Marika R
August 21, 2008
Pretty cool. I head it was confusing, but in fact it seemed to flow very naturally. It seemed to flow and progress in a very life-like manner: it is what it is, and even when it doesn't make 100% sense, it's still interesting.
PS: Patti was at the screening I was at...she played a couple of songs in honor of her friend Diane, who had passed away over the weekend. It was really really cool! =D



*****Liz S
August 20, 2008
A truly great documentary about a legend. It breaks down the documentary format and flows lyrically and poetically through Patti Smith's incredible life and career.


***½ Jason G
August 11, 2008
The arty, dissociated style fits Smith's work pretty nicely and pays tribute to her and her influences well.



****½ Nick P
August 10, 2008
Hardly revelatory, by the time "Patti Smith: Dream of Life" comes to an end, all we are left with are a succession of melodically linked declarations that form part of an awe-inspiring journey into the cerebral testimony of the significance of Patti Smith not only in todayâ??s society but also in those past or even those in the future. â??Dream of Lifeâ?? may be guilty of a rather subjective point of view, contrivance and self-indulgence, but the raw power and emotional impact it radiates with every frame is almost guaranteed to leave a searing impression on the viewerâ??s mind. The congruent flurry of ideas and imagery push the limits of cinematic documentation so far that the sheer defiance of the film is irresistible. â??Patti Smith: Dream of Lifeâ?? is easily one of the finest documentaries I have seen in years; a near-perfect blend of free flowing opinion and indignation artistically balanced with the mesmerising penetration of the soul that I cannot get out of my head, not that I am trying.


***½ Bruno S
August 9, 2008
Two stars for beautiful cinematography, two stars for Patti, minus half a star for it just not being that interesting.


Patti Smith: Dream of Life
December 5, 2008 | Rating: 3/5
Peter Bradshaw  Guardian
There are flashes of insight and genuinely moving moments in this long, meandering, wildly indulgent movie record of poet and singer-songwriter Patti Smith, and the way she went therapeutically back on the road after the death of her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, in the mid-1990s.

These tours included what were by all accounts sensational appearances with Bob Dylan, although sadly Dylan does not appear here. Smith is transforming almost visibly into an icon: modern music's equivalent of E Annie Proulx, perhaps. She is an engaging and unique figure, and the scenes with her parents are very touching.



September 26, 2017
Pamela Jahn  Electric Sheep
Part of the fascination in Steven Sebring’s affectionate documentary portrait Patti Smith: Dream of Life comes from the way it strives to be as elusive as its subject. As one would expect from a filmmaker who is first and foremost a high-end fashion and pop photographer, Sebring’s film is full of wonderfully moody black and white shots, superbly composed and often at once hauntingly beautiful and desperately sad. Essential to the film’s dark charm, however, is the melody of Patti Smith’s own language: in slow, hypnotically gentle, yet radiantly emphatic voice-over she briefly compiles key biographical data as well as momentous events and significant encounters that shaped her life, her narration underpinned by a vigorous force that makes every word sound like it is carved in stone. Applied to a different persona, Sebring’s approach might seem disturbingly self-indulgent, but for the most part it suits this portrait perfectly. The enormously influential punk rock poet, her music and poetry, and the times in which she flourished are indeed best served by a cinematic style that remains determinedly impressionistic.

Yet, Dream of Life is undoubtedly driven by the need to make sense of the enigmatic and overpowering figure at its heart. Sebring met Patti Smith in late 1995, one year after the deaths of her husband, the guitarist Fred Smith, and her only brother Todd, when she decided to return to the stage after an absence of 16 years. He followed her with his camera in utter devotion for over a decade, shooting Smith at home or while touring around the world, visiting the graves of the poets she reveres from Alan Ginsberg to William Blake and Shelley, or checking in at her parents’ house in Deptford, New Jersey. Interwoven with these glimpses of her past and present life, there is a recurring, essential image, in which Smith is sitting in a white, sparsely furnished room amidst her greatest personal treasures, at one point showing off her favourite childhood dress before picking up her guitar and giving away secrets like her crush on the late author William S Burroughs.

Clearly a labour of love, Dream of Life is a tremendously visceral composite whose strength lies in letting the look, the sound and the mystique of Patti Smith speak for themselves. Though Sebring is no doubt guilty of glamorizing his subject and often meanders instead of providing deeper insight or even just plain facts, he edits his film in much the same wildly emotional, attentive yet open-ended way Smith performs. Although there is no denying that mild self-complacence makes this an imperfect film, it remains in the mind as a slow-paced, beautifully shot and softly nostalgic documentary, a stylized capsule of an artist’s free-floating, intense and troubled life. It is an apt celebration of Smith’s extraordinary spirit and of her continued willingness to encounter the world with undying creative desire, even after being battered by fate time and again.



October 17, 2008 | Rating: 2/4
Peter Hartlaub  San Francisco Chronicle  Top Critic
Documentary. Starring Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Sam Shepard and Jackson Smith. Directed by Steven Sebring. (Not rated. 109 minutes. At the Lumiere in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.)

The miracle isn't that the genius, reclusive and unpredictable Patti Smith agreed to be the subject of a documentary. The surprise is that the singer and poet found a director with even fewer commercial aspirations than she has.

Fashion photographer Steven Sebring followed Smith for 11 years, shooting "Patti Smith: Dream of Life" while she was on tour and off. The result is a bounty of riches for Smith's established fans, but the narrative-free structure and back-and-forth-in-time style doesn't leave a lot of entry points for newcomers.

Shooting in black-and-white, Sebring is an excellent cinematographer, and Smith mostly welcomes the cameras - adding additional narration that enhances the project. She plays music with old friends (including Sam Shepard), talks about the 16 years that she spent out of the public eye and memorializes the dead - at one point handling the ashen remains of a close friend. She paints a grim portrait in the beginning, but the message is ultimately life-affirming.

Smith's most loyal followers won't mind the lack of context in between her excursions and the seemingly random appearances of musicians such as Philip Glass and Flea. No doubt this is exactly the film that Sebring, who clearly worships his subject, wanted to make. But even as "Patti Smith: Dream of Life" showcases Smith's brilliance as an artist, most audience members will probably want more - if nothing else more of the charged concert footage.

If you don't already own "Horses," this movie will make you want to go out and buy it. You'll also want to start surfing the Internet to fill in the blanks that "Dream of Life" fails to include.

-- Advisory:This film contains strong language and mature subject matter.



Documentary mementos of the life of punk rock pioneer Patti Smith
Kat Brown
27 Nov 2008
Pepper with memories, archive footage and snapshots, this sedate stroll through Patti Smith’s life plays like a trip into someone’s box of keepsakes. Sebring’s drifting tone might leave you bemused, but take it as it comes and it’s a captivating insight into modern music’s godmother. The first half rambles along beautifully, with Smith proving articulate about her life and art, with plenty of humour and groundedness for one who was hailed as the ’70s’ answer to God. The move into concert-movie territory for the second half comes as a wrench, but it’s still a warm insight into a ’70s legend who — refreshingly for such — can actually remember what she got up to.