“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.”
On Jan 21, join Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, close friends since the early 1970s, when they read from their newly published books at the Unterberg Poetry Center for the first time. Purchase your tickets here.