Elliott Smith‘s face was important, cumbersome. It was almost disconcerting having to match that faint, wistful and gentle voice to a physicality as his. Yet he was exactly like that, made of contrasts, sometimes irreconcilable, but basically irresistible to those who listened to him and followed him.

Nickolas Rossi, director of Heaven Adores You, must have had a hard time to be able to sum up all these light and dark in just one documentary, but came out victorious, taking as pin the environment in which the songwriter grew up and lived, to contextualize the story.

Portland, New York and Los Angeles are the three cities chosen by Smith. Hailing from Texas (he had a map tattooed on his arm), he found success in Portland, Oregon. This city, hotbed of several artistic movements, especially in the shining Nineties, was also the first cradle of his addictions to alcohol and drugs.

After his years with the alternative rock band Heatmiser, he began his solo career, culminating in 1998 with his Oscar nomination for the song Miss Misery, present in the soundtrack of the movie Good Will Hunting, directed by Gus Van Sant. On that occasion, the always greasy-haired boy,” as he called himself, was thrown to the Oscar stage, dressed in white, singing his track, in a surreal atmosphere. He felt out of place, forced to manage a fame that probably he hadn’t even searched. People like him, who write and play music just for a personal need, probably feel the media circus as a consequence to endure.

When life is hard, you have to change, Blind Melon sang few years earlier. Thus lived Smith too, moving from Portland and from its tumultuous past, first to New York, and then to Los Angeles, where he found the darkest moment that led to his own death. “There is nothing that binds me here,” he commented, explaining the decision to change the city, trying perhaps a turning point in a routine that resulted in the long run be detrimental to himself and the people who stood beside him. His audience supported and loved him unconditionally, because his music came first, it was more important than his habits, past, childhood, tattoos and love stories.
Regardless of the split of his life linked to addictions not much heralded in the documentary, which focuses more on the artistic growth and the human relationship intertwined with friends and musicians- what emerges is a personality so tormented, but able to be mild and transparent in his music. What he was hiding behind that prominent nose, that hair, caps and sweatshirts, flowed naturally in the lyrics and in his guitar, without barriers, as if it was the only real way to live and express himself.
He whispered his feelings, but they always revealed themselves till the end, with a clarity and sweetness that still deeply move us.