The Not So Hollywood Face of AIDS

Angels in America received twenty one Emmy nominations this morning. The miniseries adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set in the 1980s and tackles the AIDS epidemic. 

I have never seen it. I am out of the loop on this one, even though I know what it is about, I've just never been interested in seeing it. Oh well, my loss.

This also reminds me that I have never seen all of the movie Philadelphia, again another piece of media regarding AIDS.
I've only managed bits and pieces at a time. One reason I've never watched it is the fact that it stars Denzel Washington, not one of my favorite actors, and Tom Hanks, who bores me to death.

Big budget Hollywood AIDS stories and me, we just don't go together.

There is one AIDS documentary that I did find riveting. It was the documentary produced in 2001 by Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen called, Benjamin Smoke. It profiles punk rocker/gender-bender/drug addict Benjamin from the Atlanta neighborhood of Cabbagetown. Interspersed with musical performances and personal interviews of Benjamin, the camera lens shows you every inch of his struggle and the depravity of his life with AIDS.

This film is very unique in the way it documents the life of a Southern gay musician with the disease. Rarely do you see images of the South in the media that aren't filled with stereotypes involving trucks, Nascar or deer hunting. It also lets you in on a secret - that not all gay men live in Midtown, have lofts, are gym-rats and suffer from a high disposable income.

In Benjamin Smoke you get a glimpse into a subculture of Southern gay life. Benjamin's life isn't the glamorous image (see Will & Grace, Queer As Folk etc.) we so often see on television and in the movies. This shows us people living on the fringe, struggling to eat, shopping at thrift stores (if at all), and making mistakes that cost them their lives. 

Filmmaking doesn't get any more real than Benjamin Smoke. After you've seen the hyped up Farenheit 9/11 go rent Benjamin Smoke, if you can find it.

Sadly, Benjamin passed away on January 29th, 1999.


Additional information:
Benjamin Smoke/ Cowboy Pictures website
Benjamin Remembered