"I'm the wrong kind of person to be really big and famous," said Elliott Smith in a 1998 interview that opens the excellent film, Heaven Adores You: A Documentary Film About The Life & Music Of Elliott Smith. Perhaps Smith was right. The film, directed and produced by Nickolas Rossi examines the life of the gifted, yet troubled, singer who died in 2003 from two stab wounds to the chest that may or may not have been self inflicted.
Smith describes in his interview how playing his Oscar-nominated song, "Miss Misery," at the Academy Awards as "really weird" and "fun for a day." Here was this regular guy who suddenly got very famous, very quickly and he couldn't handle the onslaught of attention he was now receiving. Smith just wanted to make music and not have to answer to a public who had no idea who he was about how this "new" artist, who actually had several albums under his belt, both as a member of Heatmiser and as a solo artist, could suddenly be on such a large stage. It became too much for Smith to handle and began a downward spiral that ultimately led to his demise in 2003. While initial reports suspected it was a suicide, the coroner left the actual cause of death as undetermined. Smith's story wasn't always this dark, however.
The documentary starts at the beginning, mixing Smith's own words and archival videos along with interviews from friends, family and band mates. Smith was a self-taught musician, learning guitar by playing songs he heard on the radio. While he grew up in Dallas, TX, he soon transplanted to Portland, OR. Like many musicians, he formed his first band at an early age around sixth grade. While in high school, he bonded over a love of Rush with Tony Lash, who played drums and produced an early Smith band, Stranger Than Fiction. Lash would later go on to be the drummer in Heatmiser, where Smith's music really began to get noticed.
Heatmiser gigged regularly around Portland and the group became local stars. Eventually, Smith became disenchanted with the loud rock music he was performing with Heatmiser and started writing more introspective music for himself, garnering comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel. As Smith began to pursue a solo career, it became increasingly difficult for him to decide whether to write for the band or for his solo albums. The solo career won out, leading to tensions between him and some of his Heatmiser band mates. The breakup of the band, along with his relationship with his girlfriend, led Smith to relocate to New York.
Smith went on tour, drinking heavily, which led to friends staging an intervention. While it helped initially, Smith was angry with them and took it out on them in his song lyrics. When his song, "Miss Misery," from the movie Good Will Hunting was nominated for an Academy Award, it led to massive success that Smith was unprepared to handle. Appearances on the Conan O'Brien Show and the Academy Awards and endless interviews created too much pressure for Smith, who descended into heavy drug and alcohol abuse. In 2003, he was gone. As quickly as his star rose, it came crashing down via two stab wounds to the chest. Smith was only 34 years old.
The documentary is presented in 2080 High Definition Widescreen 16x9 (1.78:1) and looks great. Some of the archival footage is not quite up to Blu-ray standard with some of it also being in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Audio options include LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Bonus features include extended interview segments and the track "Heaven Adores You," performed by Aaron Espinoza.
Smith never expected the accolades he received and, as a result, wasn't prepared to deal with them. Heaven Adores You does an excellent job via interviews with Smith himself, as well as people who were there, of painting a picture of a complex artist. Fans of Smith will definitely want to check it out as well as fans of well-crafted pop music to see what all the buzz was about.