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"Benjamin" (no last name) was the chosen name of the lead singer of the band, Smoke, based in the Atlanta neighborhood known as Cabbagetown. The band (cello, trumpet, drums, banjo and electric guitar) played a wild Southern mix of country, blues, jazz, and punk, backing a singer whose drag-queen background, utterly honest storytelling, and visceral approach to life and music both cemented the band's fame and guaranteed its limits. While Smoke was frequently cited as one of the best local bands in the Atlanta area, Benjamin's extraordinary persona, his utterly uncompromising performances, and his HIV status created a mixture too volatile for the mainstream and the record industry. Smoke's roots in the Atlanta music underground go back to the early days when outsider cultures of drag performance, New Wave, Punk and Disco fermented and collided. When Benjamin's cohorts, including the now famous Rupaul, went off to forge their fortunes in the New York drag scene, Benjamin stayed behind to front a series of unheralded, radical, underground bands whose members ranged from unknown Georgia dykes to the "redneck poet", Deacon Lunchbox.

Benjamin Smoke a portrait of an extraordinary individual, band, and neigborhood that asks the questions -- What happens to an all-american kid in rural Georgia who feels the need to play hooky so he can rollerskate in the basement in his mother's slip? How does a poor musician with AIDS balance his illness with a renegade lifestyle and the need to create? What would be the sound of a queer Southern blues?

Co-director, Jem Cohen

Benjamin Smoke is available on DVD. The disc has 40 minutes of extra footage, including songs by Cat Power and Vic Chesnutt (w/ T.Griffin and Catherine McRae). The DVD is currently released through Plexifilm

2000
75 minutes
16mm, Color/B&W


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