Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen: Benjamin Smoke

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Programmed by Amy Kazymerchyk

Lit by the glow of a bubbling fish tank diffused by a taffeta shawl, Benjamin Smoke lounges on a stack of pillows and asks, “What happens when you make music that gets you off like drugs, sex, or god? You tell me— what is it about having a great orgasm that’s so good...?” Benjamin (1960-1999) was a member of Atlanta’s underground and experimental music scenes in the 1980s, including the Opal Foxx Quartet. His yearning to write original music lead to the formation of Smoke, a band admired by the likes of Michael Stipe, Chan Marshall, and Patti Smith (who appears in the film). For 10 years, filmmakers Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen filmed Benjamin at his home in Atlanta’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, opening a window onto his life with drugs, music, AIDS, queer drag, and his mother. Benjamin Smoke explores the life of a true American rebel in a little known, rapidly disappearing pocket of the U.S. South. “In the straw coloured light, in light rapidly changing, on a life rapidly fading; have you seen death singing, have you seen death singing, have you seen death singing?” (Patti Smith). “A haunting portrait of a lyricist-singer who is the very embodiment of the famous observation that burning the candle at both ends produces such a lovely light” (Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times). 72 mins, 16mm, B&W and colour, 2000, USA

With: Benjamin Smoke, Patti Smith, Tim Campion, Brian Halloran, Coleman Lewis, Bill Taft