Heaven Adores You, Blu-ray (2015)
Director: Nickolas Rossi
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment EVB335089 [7/17/15]
Video: 1.78:1 for 1080p HD, color/black & white
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 (main program only), PCM 2.0 stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Extras: Heaven Adores You – music video perf. by Aaron Espinoza; Extended interviews
Length: 165 minutes
Rating: Audio: **** Video: **** Overall: ****
Although Elliott Smith was from Texas, he gained his initial prominence as an indie musician fronting a band named Heatmiser in Portland during the 1990s. While the Northwest was introducing the jagged Grunge sound, Smith preferred an acoustic guitar and melodic composition. This prompted a transition to solo recording. Roman Candle, his 1994 debut on Cavity Search Records featured eight tracks without much commercial success. Smith’s self-titled 1995 album and Either/Or on the Kill Rocks Stars label presented an introspective songwriter whose contexts of depression and addiction would be somewhat prophetic. Smith’s major success came from Good Will Hunting, Gus Van Sant’s Oscar-winning 1996 movie. Smith contributed three songs and one of them, “Miss Misery” was nominated for Best Song. He performed the song at the Oscar ceremony and was eventually signed to Dreamworks. He would only release two albums (XO and Figure 8) prior to his untimely death. But his musical influence and legacy has extended for over a decade.
Heaven Adores You, a documentary by Nickolas Rossi makes a valiant attempt to examine the music and enigmatic life of Elliott Smith. Eagle Rock Entertainment has released it on Blu-ray. The film is a loving tribute to a complex, quiet man and his musical vision. A good portion of the movie focuses on his career emergence in Portland. While popular with his band Heatmiser, Elliott realizes that that is not the proper vehicle for his music. With a variety of musical snippets and interviews (although not that many with Smith), a vague portrait is drawn of a seemingly reluctant Indie star. His music is ethereal and haunting, and he possesses a high-register tenor like Jeff Buckley. The assorted artistic shots of the Rose City blend well with this music. Smith becomes the star of the Portland underground community. There are glimpses into his early career that are amusing (a Devo cover band), but no real accounts of the musical process that created this special music.
As Smith begins to hit it big, his ascension is framed by the success of “Miss Misery” and his seemingly instantaneous crossover stardom. Unexpectedly, he moves to Brooklyn (which also benefits from camera agility, but grittier). There is a great story about Smith putting $40 into a jukebox to control it for an evening. His mental condition and drug abuse are taking a toll. A move to Los Angeles fuels the self-destructive behavior, although his two Dreamworks albums are well-received. There are references to drugs and misanthropy, but no insight into this. Smith dies from two stab wounds (possibly self-inflicted), and the indie world is stunned. In death he is beloved and appreciated.
Heaven Adores You is an interesting and thoughtful film. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix expands the quiet, acoustic music with delicacy and subtle depth. The urban photography is crisp and shot with an eye toward camera angles. The mystery of Elliott Smith is never solved, but his musical aura of sensitivity is always present.