Director: Nickolas Dylan Rossi
Blowback Pictures/Heaven Adores You/ZAP
The life of Elliott Smith is not riveting – there’s not a lot to tell, I’ve worked through most of the books available and there’s not a whole heap you can find out. The life of Elliott Smith is fascinating though – because he chose to end it. And because of that fabulous music. That’s what sends a Smith fan to any of the books and now to this warm-hearted documentary tribute.
Heaven Adores You gets it right. As right as a film about a fairly reticent, reclusive, outside artist-type who has now been dead for longer than he had a recording career can be.
Wisely we open on the Academy Awards – and an out of place Smith performing one of his signature songs, albeit reluctantly, bemused. Here he was – a guy so few had heard of and he was on one of the biggest stages of all, one of his quaint little ditties had become a left-field hit through its association with a big budget film. It was the arrival of Elliott Smith. All of a sudden he was known.
He had been toiling away the decade before that, in bands, making music – open mic nights, messy bars, a bedsit hobbyist too. His double-tracked vocals, part of his obvious Beatles obsession. These songs of heartbreak, indelible melodies, gorgeous, lo-fi…he was something special to everyone that ever got to hear his music.
Heaven Adores You gets it right by starting with as big as Smith ever got in his lifetime and then, through archival footage (what little exists) and interviews with friends and fellow musicians we are told the story of how this reluctant guy made his way, in the small but significant way, on the scene in Portland.
It’s a lovely tribute because, every step of the way, we hear Smith’s voice, his songs; the film’s makers know that what is most crucial to the Smith story is the music.
So although others might gripe about not learning enough, or anything much, Heaven Adores You manages to both appeal to fans – giving them exactly what they want, the story of the guy whose music they love – and also it would work as a blanks-filler for anyone curious about Smith and his music.
Elliott Smith is one of those guys – his music will be picked up on by future generations, it’s different these days. But finding Smith in 10 years’ time might be like discovering Nick Drake in the late 1990s. Or the Tim and Jeff Buckley stories. He’s one of those types. Cult figure that almost made it big – and deserves to, however long into the afterlife it might take.
The heart is there. In the right place.
Heaven Adores You is part of this year’s Documentary Edge Festival and will screen at Auckland’s Q Theatre, Wednesday, May 27 and Friday May 29 and at Wellington’s Roxy Cinema Saturday, June 6, Friday June 12 and Sunday June 14.