Heaven Adores You: A Documentary about the Life and Music of Elliott Smith

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Heaven Adores You Elliot Smith

It’s impossible to write a review of a documentary about Elliott Smith without it becoming deeply personal.  That’s apt, because his solo career was one of deeply personal lyrics and the intimacy of a man alone with only his guitar.

            I was really interested in viewing this documentary because my knowledge of Elliott Smith was rather limited.  I knew he had a rough adolescence, played in a band prior to his solo act, and had committed suicide.  Also, I was aware that he was struggling with his fame from his career.  On the album EITHER/OR, he sings, “I’m so sick and tired of all these pictures of me/Completely wrong/Totally wrong.”

            HEAVEN ADORES YOU did an admirable job of filling in the holes in my knowledge of Elliott Smith.  Smith’s lyrics were a direct look into his psyche at times, and I appreciated how the documentary threaded his music throughout the film.  It was filmed roughly in chronological order and brought in music critics, friends, bandmates, and even his sister.  They talked about their perception of Elliott at the time while playing clips of him performing music during the same time period.

            It begins in Texas, looking at Elliott’s first attempts at songwriting. His sister and high school friends talk a lot about how Elliott learned to write music.  Then it follows him up to Oregon.   It traces his musical development through Heatmiser (named after the 1974 stop-motion animated YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS).  Heatmiser played loud alternative rock.  HEAVEN ADORES YOU provides an intimate look at Elliott while he tried to find his own voice, even while staying in the band that meant so much to him.

            Elliott Smith’s solo career sounded different than any music he had played before.  It juxtapositions his soft, meditative lyrics, sung to the acoustic guitar, with his face which, at that point, was worn with the hardness of life.  The documentary explores his downward spiral in an elegant, meditative fashion.  For a guy who hated the limelight and died by stabbing himself in the heart, there is a lot that could be dramatized.  This documentary exercised restraint and respect while still charting out his brief but important musical legacy.