Jonathan Miller became famous in the cast of the great 1960s comedy show Beyond the Fringe, sharing the stage with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and—I can’t tell if a heart emoji would be out of place here—playwright Alan Bennett. To this day, Dr. Miller is well-known in the UK as a public intellectual, prominent atheist, TV documentarian and opera director. (During the early 1980s, Miller was briefly famous in America, too, as the host of the popular PBS history of medicine, The Body in Question, and as the author of the best-selling book of the same title. He was often a guest on Dick Cavett’s talk show for an entire week at a time.)
In 1971—YouTube says ‘72, but I’ll take Miller’s biographer’s date—Miller returned to New York, a city he’d first visited when Beyond the Fringe played Broadway a decade before, and he brought a BBC camera crew. West Side Stories: Two Journeys into New York City juxtaposed his impressions of New York City and those of a very young Patti Smith.
She looks and sounds like Rimbaud if he just stepped away from a stickball game, which is to say she’s already, as Oliver Stone made Ray Manzarek say, “making the myths.” Patti talks Godard, rock journalism, “slopping the hogs,” spending the whole day on 42nd Street for fifty cents, and the first porno double feature she watched (Orgy at Lil’s Place and Blonde on a Bum Trip), all with unusual verbal facility and charm for a 24-year-old.
In my whole life, no matter where I lived—Chattanooga, Chicago, South Jersey—I was always an outcast. Y’know, even in my own neighborhood, even in my own family. I looked different than my whole family. I always felt alien. Not that I wasn’t loved, but people thought I was weird-lookin’ and skinny and all that. I had an eyepatch which I’ve since got rid of. And I never had no friends or boyfriends. When I came to the city, my whole life changed.
The uploader of this footage, YouTube user Pheidias Ictinus, claims it was the cameraman’s idea to interview Patti:
This film was made by the director Tristram Powell. At the suggestion of his cameraman he went to meet Patti and she ended up as an integral part of the film he was making with Jonathan Miller. The decision was made on the fly, during filming in New York, it was not part of the original concept. That’s what you call creative freedom.
Who would Jonathan Miller’s cameraman tell him to interview in today’s Manhattan? Some tech guy? I can’t wait to turn on the TV in 2047 and hear some tech guy reminisce about New York on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel. Lord, take me now. . .
Watch after the jump…