Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Benjamin Smoke"

Quite a week here. As Nick noted in the last comments, I got promoted -- hurrah. The weather's been incredibly gorgeous -- to coincide, I'm sick again, with a nasty head cold. The Thrashers made a good trade, the Thrashers made some lousy trades. The Avalanche dumped an albatross. The world kept turning.

And, in a move about six years overdue, I got a new television. Despite fears of learning about things like "LCD" and "HDTV" and so on, I shelled out to replace my vintage-1988 Samsung, and it's fantastic.

I can watch hockey at home again. I can watch movies again! And so last night, I sat down and watched the film I'd had from Netflix for a good four months. They must love people like me -- I dutifully pay each month, and never expect anything like, say, new movies.

But that all changes now! Probably close to a year ago, Coco recommended Jem Cohen's "Benjamin Smoke" to me as a good slice of Atlanta life.

It's a documentary -- not even a documentary so much as an oral history -- about the titular fellow, the singer for various Atlanta bands, in the years before his death in 1999. He was a fixture in Cabbagetown, a funky/cool neighborhood sorta near mine that's home to a few friends.

The music's really good -- the band most seen/heard is Smoke, a sort of dark bluesy poetic group. It's an interesting contrast between the off-stage Benjamin, stoned and wasting away, an on-stage, very focused and intense.

It's also a glimpse into an Atlanta I never really saw (it ends right before I moved out here), a bit more offbeat, a drag queen/punk living among hardened white trash, stories of cops busting up the shows by Smoke's earlier band. Cabbagetown is still a lot more colorful than, say, where I live -- but a lot less so than it was in this movie.

Also kinda cool to see some old Atlanta landmarks, a decade back -- the Majestic, Variety Playhouse, Cabbagetown landmarks. Friends and I laugh at Atlanta's skyline -- a handful of tall buildings -- but I'm struck by how much it's grown just since the scenes in this movie.

I've never seen Cohen's Fugazi film -- I'll have to check that out. This was good and affecting, and if I were a bit more of a film scholar and a bit less whacked out on cold medicine, I'd write about how visually appealing this is. But that'd just lead me into rambling-tangent-land, and we don't want that, do we?

More to come in coming days -- hopefully a bit more together.

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