‘I think the music business will eventually crush me…’
Like my bank balance and my level of charisma, my knowledge of Elliott Smith has always been pretty limited. Musically, his various contributions to film soundtracks were about the extent of my awareness and other than the circumstances behind his violent and tragic death I knew little regarding his personal life either. Heaven Adores You doesn’t really flesh out the legend of Elliott Smith but it still provides key information and insight from various former band members, friends and lovers.
One big plus from director Nickolas Rossi’s film is the huge amount of archive footage featuring Smith playing live. What the film lacks in raw interviews with Smith himself, it more than makes up for in terms of performance. We see Smith playing in various guises, either with a full band in the early part of his career or in a more intimate setting after he had gone solo and the shows are both illuminating and beautiful.
One problem for Rossi is that while Smith’s music is undoubtedly captivating, his crippling shyness actually renders him quite a dull interviewee. So aside from one moment where he stops singing Waltz #2 mid performance because he’s sick to death of it, the few interviews with Smith offer nothing of any real interest.
The other issue with Heaven Adores You is that it is unrelentingly grim. Recent documentaries on other troubled artists Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse offered brevity and memories of happier times about their subject matters but Rossi’s film has no such salvation.
The legend of Elliott Smith is a captivating one but the man himself was very ordinary outside of his astonishing musical talent. This everyman quality is part of what enabled him to touch a chord with thousands of devoted fans but his dour public persona doesn’t really lend itself to a feature length documentary.