A look at the brand new film documenting the life and music of Elliott Smith.

Elliott Smith spent a majority of his adult life writing and performing music, first as a member of Heatmiser and eventually as a solo performer, for which he would be best known. From 1994-2003, Smith released albums ranging from delicate lo-fi home recordings to Abbey Road-ready pop masterpieces. Just five years after his career-altering Academy Awards nomination and performance, Smith died at the age of 34, suffering two stab wounds to the chest. His fanbase was devastated, and while we’ve since seen two truly excellent releases since his death, many have waited for his story to be told. A handful of writers have attempted to do so, but few have succeeded, instead focusing the more gossip-worthy aspects of the musician’s life (Matt LeMay and Jayson Greene, your contributions are two huge exceptions to this). Nickolas Rossi’s brand new film Heaven Adores You, which documents the life and career of Elliott Smith, will screen for a very limited time at select theaters this coming week.

Partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Heaven Adores You tells the story of Smith’s life and career through archival live footage, photos and exclusive music, as well as interviews with Smith and selection of his friends and former associates. For a portion of the film, Smith is not seen and only heard, with a gorgeous assortment of land and cityscape footage playing over the interview audio. Smith spent his career split between Portland, New York and Los Angeles, and shots from these three cities illustrate the influence and impact they had on him. The technique is used to great effect and gives the film a visual cohesiveness.

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Perhaps the strongest thing about Heaven Adores You is that it greatly succeeds where the few published biographies have failed, telling Smith’s story free of exploit and sensationalism while giving an extensive overview of his life and career. There are no in-depth analyses of his upbringing, specifics of his substance abuse, or a detailed account of his death. It instead gives a more rounded account of the musician’s life, showing his sense of humor, wit and charm. While the film was not authorized or endorsed by Smith’s family (his younger sister Ashley is the only family member who participated), the film tells his story in a way that is both tasteful and engaging, showing that Smith was far more than the depressive sad-sack that many have wrongfully portrayed him to be in the past. Many will see a side of Smith that they’ve yet to see up until this point, and it’s both refreshing and a relief to see him presented in a new, more truthful light.

Heaven Adores You will serve as a measuring stick to which future films are compared. This is entirely dependent on, of course, if anyone dares to make one and with Heaven Adores You finally released, the need for another is highly questionable. This is the definitive Elliott Smith biography here, folks, and whether you’re a casual listener or obsessive fan, Heaven Adores You is a must-see.

Heaven Adores You screens this Sunday, May 10, at 2 p.m. at the  iPic Theater at Bayshore Town Center, repeating on Wednesday May 13 at 7:30 p.m., and on Monday, May 11 at the Marcus Ridge Cinema in New Berlin. For a complete listing of screenings (a small amount of additional Wisconsin screenings are scheduled), visit heavenadoresyou.com/screenings. 

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