Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

Heaven Adores You, MIFF 2014

0 Comments 13 August 2014

Although he never permeated the ‘mainstream’ of music, Elliot Smith has proved to be a deeply influential figure within the music industry. Much of today’s indie rock and folk music (such as The National) has its origins in the bittersweet melodies of Smith’s music. In Heaven Adores You, longtime fan and director Nickolas Rossi creates a chronicle of Smith’s early music career and prolific writing up to his violent death in 2003. Often feeling like a celebration of his enormous talent, Heaven Adores You also attempts to record the recoil from Smith’s mysterious death and its affect on his family, friends and dedicated fans alike.

Heaven Adores You is rigidly chronological, beginning with Smith’s move from his family home in Texas to Portland, Oregon at only 14. Through interviews with high school friends and musical collaborators, we’re given a thorough look into the Portland music scene of which Smith became a stalwart. Heaven Adores You essentially steps through Smith’s career, album by album, including a hefty chunk of screen time spent on his early releases with bands Stranger Than Fiction and Heatmiser.

Heaven Adores You hits its stride as it documents Smith’s move to New York and his burgeoning popularity when ‘Miss Misery’ was used in the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. This period of unease in Smith’s life resonates poignantly on screen, with the documentary taking a turn towards how truly unknowable Smith is. In an interview documented in the film, Smith suggests he’s “the wrong kind of person to be big and famous”. This conflict between popularity and musical creativity exists as a shadow over the second half of the film, as we’re given detail about how drug use and depression dampened his life. Heaven Adores You can’t claim to be a particularly uplifting documentary, but like Smith’s music, has tinges of optimism under the seemingly endless cloud of pessimism.

Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack here is a true gem, with Smith’s music threaded throughout the film. Alongside classic tracks are unreleased demos, evidencing his musical breadth and prolific nature. Heaven Adores You also includes various radio and television interviews with Smith himself, creating the impression that he is essentially narrating his own documentary. The inclusion of the unreleased, candid demos, together with Smith’s self-effacing view on his music, gifts Heaven Adores You with a particularly intimate feeling.

This intimacy is only elevated through the scope of interviews used within the film. Indeed, almost everyone central to Smith’s narrative has been used to best effect here, including personal assistants, ex-girlfriends and musical or artistic collaborators. It’s hard to view Heaven Adores You as anything other than the ‘definitive’ Elliot Smith documentary. Rossi has crafted an honest and all-encompassing view into Smith’s creative output and life, considering the unknowable quantity that Elliott Smith ultimately is.

Smith purists will adore the depths that Heaven Adores You reaches, while casual listeners will enjoy the clarity with which his musical history is covered. Heaven Adores You ultimately chrysalises Smith’s sensibilities into a 90-minute film, an impressive feat considering the sensitivity, creativity and mystery of the man himself.

4/5 stars

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This post was written by who has written 2 posts on Buzzcuts.

Ashleigh McMillan is an RMIT Journalism student and avid film watcher. She once spread Vegemite all over a garden gate, in order to visually represent her vitriolic hatred of the stuff. She has very strong opinions.

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