Benjamin Smoke

Dir: Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen, 2000. Documentary.

A lot of people end up finding what they think is a kindred spirit in an icon, and perhaps just as many find it in someone who is prophetic or a poet. The icon can bring comfort in embracing the wonder and beauty of art, while the poet can expose the haunting and sometimes transgressive side of things. Sometimes you can find both these qualities in the same person. It's the only thing that can explain the popularity of Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg, for example. Benjamin Smoke is a documentary that does just that, but for someone who never got the chance to assimilate ... and he maybe never would have, anyway.

Born Robert Dickerson and called only Benjamin, his voice and lyrics brings to mind that of Tom Waits or Nick Cave. The band he fronted, Smoke, was infamous in Cabbagetown, GA, a town that, as Benjamin explains, was always separate from Atlanta, where it rests, riddled with poverty. This poverty allowed for all the good and wonderful things in life, he states: “hustlers, inter-breeding, drugs and sniffing glue.” The documentary, one soon realizes, didn't need more than to put up a camera to Benjamin in an empty room in order to make a bold impression, but thanks to the truly masterful direction and awe-inspiring editing by Nancy Roach and the directors, something quite miraculous was captured. As a result, a small legend had his story told.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Nov 25, 2015 4:45pm

Gummo

Dir: Harmony Korine, 1997. Starring: Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton, Chloë Sevigny. Cult.

For the sake of argument, let’s agree that catharsis can come from viewing tragedies. We watch movies circulating around slums and the darkest corners of imagination not only to get a clearer understanding of them but also because we come away feeling a little more alive and grounded in our own circumstances. But there is a unique squalor of America not found anywhere else in the world. A sort of squalor of choice or adaptation where people dwell in their own filth and close-mindedness willingly, and with perceptions that someone forced to live in such a way might not understand. So in response to this catharsis, I’ll be the first to admit that Gummo sort of hit me like a drug. Say, heroin for example. I couldn’t quite grasp what was going on, but in the trailer when I heard Madonna’s voice singing, “In the midnight hour, I can feel your power, just like a prayer, you know I’ll take you there…” over cigar-smoking, cat-torturing youth, a boy in filthy bathwater, a tornado and a happy albino woman dancing in a parking lot, I was pulled into a trial run. But since it also induces a fever-like edge of comedy, I’m going to write this review in the form of a mock prescription.

If you like to be pulled out of yourself in order to see the irony and falsehood of the pursuit of the "American Dream," Gummo might be for you. Set in the tornado-stricken city of Xenia, Ohio, it features the lives of two boys, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton), who spend their days killing cats to sell to butchers, riding bikes with mismatched parts, sniffing glue, having sex, and philosophizing about life in an eerie way that only a person living in this reality can. Their town is filled with strange and disturbing people who are rooted so deeply in their own bitterness, racism, and boredom that their actions can only be received as a cult-like unison of abandon and self-destruction. Chloe Sevigny plays Dot, who along with her sisters Darby and Helen, occupy themselves with a benign sense of vanity and seclusion similar to Little and Big Edie in Grey Gardens. Not exactly hard to watch, but still strange.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Mar 22, 2010 5:57pm
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