“I’m the wrong kind of person to be really big and famous.”
As of late, music has seen a resurgence of singer-songwriters; Canadian Tobias Jesso Jr, and the less formulaic Father John Misty, have enthralled listeners with their records this year. Yet, even they fell short of 2015’s most vivid troubadour, Sufjan Stevens. A hushed vocal - multi-tracked so as to create textures and harmonies - with the aid of a single guitar or piano, moulded the most heart-breaking and gorgeous album this year. Carrie & Lowell surprised many; Stevens had done folk before, but he’d never achieved something so sparse and Lo-fi in nature. It’s a genre that comes across as effortless – a genre his predecessor, Elliott Smith, knows all too well.
Raised in Texas, and living much of his life in Oregon, Smith endured a difficult upbringing. His parents had divorced before his first birthday, with his mother remarrying to an abusive partner. At 14, Smith relocated to live with his father, and eventually began to pursue a career in music. With 1997’s Either/Or (arguably his greatest work), Smith attracted the attention of Hollywood director, Gus Van Zant, who invited him to contribute to his latest picture, Good Will Hunting.
Soon after, Smith was to be an Oscar nominated artist, and was consequently catapulted into fame with an Oscar night performance of “Miss Misery”. With this new-found fame, came; a big-label contract, and unfortunately, a multitude of personal issues – depression, alcoholism, and drug dependence. Though he attempted to enter rehab, his struggles continued well into the 00’s, and his life came to a close in 2003 as a result of suspected suicide. The nature of his death remains in question, yet the film offers no expose on the matter.
On the whole, Heaven Adores You largely chooses to gloss over the finer details, and therein lies its problem. Though labelled a documentary, the film acts as more of a hagiography; serving more like an advertisement for his music, rather of providing insight into his life. But, I guess this could have been expected, as it was crowdfunded to serve as director Nickolas Rossi’s love letter to the troubled singer. As good as Smith’s music is, even his most loyal fans will feel a little let down by the lack of content that surfaced.
Much of the film is occupied by lovely, solemn shots of his various home cities, with his delicate music playing in the foreground. It’s picturesque, and quietly eerie; the same was said about Smith himself: beneath this exterior of pretty, serene music, lay an aged face with rooted emotional problems. Like his music, the film is ambiguous in nature; but, whereas Smith’s music was intentionally, and poetically, abstract, Heaven Adores You is a film with little resolution, ultimately leaving you a little unfulfilled.