Before his untimely death in 2003 from a grisly suicide (knife wound to the heart) at the age of 34, Elliott Smith was regarded as something of a national treasure of the indie-rock world.
Like Kurt Cobain before him, Smith emerged from the Pacific Northwest punk scene, starting out in Portland with the band Heatmiser. He became an unlikely celebrity after the song “Miss Misery” appeared on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack and landed him a gig performing in front of a global audience at the Academy Awards. And it was this unexpected, unwanted fame that ultimately proved to be the sensitive (bordering of fragile) singer-songwriter’s downfall.
Heaven Adores You tracks Smith’s slow, steady rise and gradual decline from the cumulative effects of depression, alcoholism and drug addiction. It’s an intimate, meditative portrait of an under-recognized (and often misunderstood) artist, and it’s clear that director Nickolas Dylan Rossi is a huge fan of Smith’s work. If you’ve never heard the soft, whispery vocals (which recall early Nick Drake) and simple stick-in-your-craw melodies, the film will provide a perfect introduction to Smith’s distinctive sounds.
The story unfurls via archive footage of Smith as well as interviews with his close friends, bandmates, girlfriends and admirers in the Portland scene, each offering their take on the enigmatic musician. There’s an awful lot of b-roll footage as well, designed to give us a sense of place in the three scenes (Portland, NYC and LA) that left Smith feeling increasingly isolated by his success.
What’s missing here is any sort of illuminating insight into the enigmatic musician’s life that could help to explain why he felt like ending it was his only possible recourse. Rossi’s hero worship seemingly prevents him from digging deeper into the depression and addictions that apparently plagued Smith for much of his life, so the film ultimately leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.
Then again, maybe that’s too much to expect from a movie about a man who turned obfuscation into an art form. Maybe the poetic beauty of Smith’s songs are more important than the tragedy of his self-inflicted demise. But, as a longtime fan, I was left strangely unfulfilled. –Bret Love
DIRECTOR: Nickolas Dylan Rossi
STUDIO: SpectiCast Entertainment