Eagle Rock Entertainment (label)
03 May 2015 (released)
30 May 2015
This is the documentary of an icon, musician Elliott Smith. You may never have heard of him but his music was a staple of the 90s. Smith was an engaging and magnetic creative force during the 90s underground music scene. Originally part of Heatmiser, he went on to inspire a generation of grunge and rock bands. But it was as a solo singer and songwriter that he will be most remembered. He gained both commercial appeal and critical praise for his work, leading to an oscar nomination for best song in 'Good Will Hunting'. This documentary meets those close to him and explores his life and works.
To start all reviews about a biopic you have to reflect on what you knew. I remembered the first time I heard his song 'Miss Misery'. It was a cloud of emotions floating in a sunny day. This was how Smiths work sounded to me. His lyrics expressed his frustration at the life he had and omitted nothing. We could hear his battle with addiction, love and depression. They Emitted hurt, intertwining all of these topics with an emotional grace that was almost alien to that time. So after knowing all this, I have to take it too the film and see what it will tell me. What did it tell me? the documentary about his life and works actually told me almost nothing I didn't know before. No new doors were opened, no new stories were told. I knew Smith at a distance but it seems I knew almost all that the film makers wanted to tell. Could it have been like the reviewer for the dance band the Prodigy once said, 'They just haven't done anything interesting except their music...'? I would have to scream NO! Look at the recent Cobain documentary to see that new can be found from the old.
Smith had a presence that was almost completely devoid here. We meet family members and friends, artists and collaborators but it feels like no one wanted to let me know him. The interviews almost do not search for answers. They seem to want only to give flesh to a soft toy of Smith. We find out little of his life or his work that really mattered from them. This would be okay if say, instead we found other avenues to explore. Here the film fails to open up any possibility for this. The floating shots of a cityscape do nothing to aid our exploration and just annoy. The framing of stock footage and photos gives them life but it is too far and too few. These could have really opened the door to his work as they did again in the documentary works on Cobain, Marley et al. All is not lost however and I have to stand here and say the 3stars you see below is for the music. Smith should be remembered for this. I feel that in the end, go along for this only. It is not a great work but it has great works within it.