Benjamin Smoke - Movie Review

  • 01 November 2005

Rating: 2 out of 5

Who is Benjamin Smoke? Well, there's no such person, as it turns out. Benjamin is an alias for a guy named Robert Dickerson. Smoke is the name of his Georgia band, one which has "influenced" Patti Smith and, reportedly, R.E.M. Ultimately, Benjamin Smoke is essentially pretty meaningless as a title.

So who is Robert Dickerson? He's the lead singer and songwriter for Smoke. He's also a speed freak, a sometimes drag queen, and a guy that's dying from AIDS. He's now a shut-in that rarely comes out except to play a gig from time to time. And he's a bohemian that fancies himself a latter-day beat poet. (This he is not.)

A 70-minute documentary of the final months of Dickerson's life, Benjamin Smoke wants to be Crumb but doesn't even reach to the level of a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode. After a tour through "Cabbagetown," as Dickerson's industrial 'burb is called, we are treated to jam sessions with the band, and many, many face-to-camera monologues with Dickerson rambling incoherently about God knows what, outdoing Crispin Glover for biggest nut on film. Worse still, the material had to be padded to reach its anemic length, with artsy still photography, vistas of the town, and close-ups on various knick-knacks found in Dickerson's home. Huh?

The film's sole purpose and only selling point is, morbidly, the chronicling of Dickerson's death. Not that there's much insight to be gained by his wandering chit-chat, but the look into his daily routine, his medications, and the devastating toll the illness has taken on his life is sobering. And Smoke's music isn't bad, either.

Oddly, an appearance by Patti Smith, being used to sell the film to the public, is perhaps the worst part of the movie. Her screen time consists largely of a poetry reading -- which is so atrociously bad it actually had to be edited, chopped into chunks while she's reading it. That would have been the best idea to apply to this film as a whole: Carve it up into a 15-minute short, and you've got yourself an award winner.

Where there's Smoke, there's no fire.

Image caption Benjamin Smoke

Facts and Figures

Year: 2000

Run time: 72 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 17th June 2000

Distributed by: Cowboy Booking International

Reviews 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jem Cohen, Peter Sillen

Producer: Jem Cohen, Peter Sillen

Starring: Benjamin Dickerson as Himself (as Benjamin), Patti Smith as Herself

Also starring: Tim Campion, Brian Halloran, Coleman Lewis, Bill Taft, Jem Cohen, Peter Sillen