Benjamin Smoke (2000)

March 23, 2017 · Regal Riviera · 3:45 P.M.

“A loving piece of hipster iconography, a poignant and respectful memorial to a troubled and talented man. More impressionistic than biographical, Benjamin Smoke is a collage of interviews, performance and rehearsal clips, and evocative glimpses of Cabbagetown, the shabby, reluctantly gentrifying Atlanta neighborhood where Mr. Dickerson lived much of his adult life–an area, as he describes it, where children build go-carts, go to jail early, and watch their parents do lots of inhalants.”–A.O. Scott, New York Times

“By the time we see Smoke play together, in rehearsal, the music, not reminiscent of much else, fits right into the prevailing tone of unpremeditated originality, as if it were the only sort of music possible.”–Luc Sante, New York Times

A collaboration between Cohen and documentary filmmaker Peter Sillen, Benjamin Smoke introduces us to Robert Dickerson, a performer better known within the Atlanta arts scene as “Benjamin.” Cohen first met Benjamin in 1989 and soon after began shooting occasional Super 8 footage of him. It wasn’t until years later that Cohen and Sillen shaped the material into a feature-length film. The film’s primary interviews were conducted in 1997, just two years before Benjamin succumbed to complications from hepatitis C and AIDS.

The tagline of Benjamin Smoke is: “What is the sound of the queer southern blues?” It’s a little Patti Smith, a little Tom Waits, and a little drag.

Benjamin Smoke screened as part of our small retrospective of films by Jem Cohen at Big Ears.