In Which I See Patti Smith Spit a Loogie on the Stage of the Prince

April 16, 2008 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

The fest officially wrapped up with an epic presentation running some 3 1/2 hours that culminated in a sing-along to “Because the Night.” Seriously.

First off, when it comes to awards I am dramatically out of step. No matter how many films I see – and I think this year is a record, the number pertaining to which I’m more than a little embarrassed to reveal – I somehow manage to miss all the award-gobblers. Ordinarily my reaction to most of the read names is a double take denoting vague unfamiliarity. Either that, or it’s a title I felt was crushingly mediocre and had already busied myself forgetting.

So I was a little taken aback when the award for the “Archie” – a trophy for best debut film, dedicated to the late, great Archie Perlmutter, and handed out by the simply great Ruth Perlmutter – goes to a movie I really, really, really liked: Daniel Barnz’s Phoebe in Wonderland, starring Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Clarkson.

I’m also way rah-rah on the awards for In a Dream (First Film…from the festival jury, that is), Song Sung Blue (Documentary) and Chop Shop’s Ramin Bahrani (Director). I’m a bit less so for the ones handed to Nothing to Lose (Feature), the ham-handed Choose Connor (American Independent) and definitely the gimmicky and wan Universal Signs (Audience Award – like Homer Simpson says, democracy doesn’t work). As for those I didn’t catch, there’s the striking B&W Breakout (Animated Short), Vexille (Animated Feature – what, between this and Dead Fury?) and Body of War (Audience Documentary), which I somehow managed to completely and utterly overlook. Apparently it was co-directed by Phil Donahue. Yes, that one!

Then unspooled (on film!) Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Steven Sebring, USA). On one level I’m more than happy that the festival opted for an experimental documentary, particularly about someone more than a little prone to break into poetry that, at times, is more than a little annoying to anyone who’s not Patti Smith herself. I’m extra happy about the way it serves as a counterpoint to the Opening Night film Young@Heart, which is as crassly calculated and manipulative as this is uncompromisingly personal. On the other hand, this thing is way too long, which is just the start of it. Shot over twelve years on 16mm, most of it B&W, it’s clearly modeled after the Chet Baker film Let’s Get Lost: a fashion photographer taking a break from soulless paid work to gawk over their new best friend. (There’s even a cameo from Flea on a beach, which happened towards the beginning of Lost. Nice memory, huh?) The difference is that Lost was capturing the skeletal, near-death Baker whereas Smith is very much cognizant and still insanely charismatic. The film essentially feels not at all like someone’s interpretation of Smith than Smith’s perception of herself. With that comes no shortage of self-indulgence, including poetry and attempts at avant-garde cinema that seemed to funnel out more than a couple audience members per instance. Then again, it also captures her playful, laid-back and charming side, which brushes up nicely against her rage-filled concert side, as well as any of her other sides she lets be captured on film. This would have made a great 70 minute film; at 109, it’s a touch too personal.

Afterwards Smith showed up with her director for a Q&A then a three-song performance, during which came the aforementioned loogie and sing-a-long. I would’ve gone to the after party if it wasn’t for this goddamned sickness, but really, isn’t this enough?

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And It Looks Like We Might Have Made It Did I Not Do This Yet?: A Semi-Belated Summing-Up of PFF 17

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