Benjamin Smoke, Directed by Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen
C-Hundred Film Corporation and Cowboy Booking International, July 21, 2000 (US)
Written By: Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen
Starring: Benjamin (Robert Dickerson), Tim Campion, Brian Halloran, Coleman Lewis, Bill Taft, Deacon Lunchbox, and Patti Smith
I saw a ghost. I was sitting in the gorgeously spooky old Fine Arts Theater Building on Michigan Avenue and I saw a ghost. Light shined through a translucent body, reflecting off bones.
I might never have heard of the band Smoke or their lead singer Benjamin (also known by his drag name, Opal, as well as his birth name, Robert Dickerson) had I not stumbled upon the documentary Benjamin Smoke at an indie film festival in Chicago. The music of the south proceeded to creep into my body. It was the music of a smoldering wasteland, smoke rising up from ashes. Its roots seemed to be tangled in the vines that grow beneath graveyards, as natural and pure as the soil from which it was born.
When I got home, I couldn’t search the Web fast enough to find a place to order both Smoke studio albums (Heaven on a Popsicle Stick and Another Reason to Fast) as well as Opal Foxx Quartet’s The Love That Won’t Shut Up.
Benjamin Smoke is something you will not soon forget. What is captured on film and through the recordings of Smoke and Opal Foxx Quartet is quite simply proof that spirits do exist. The brutal, agonizing pain of a disintegrating body is no match for the undying spirit of Benjamin. With one foot in the grave, Benjamin shines on in the glow of eternal life, refusing to be pitied, refusing to slow down, and certainly refusing to go quietly. He lived hard and he’d die harder. He sang until there was absolutely no breath left inside him. He is still singing, still laughing, and if he visits you too you can bet that the ghost you see will be all dolled up, forever fabulous in the glowing.