A confession that might get me banned from some of the best coffee shops in town: Elliott Smith’s music never did much for me. It was unquestionably heartfelt and pure, and his DIY ethic was admirable, but I often found the dour bend of the lyrics and the softly sung aesthetic too down-tempo, mundane and flat.
All of which I only say to enhance my recommendation of the new documentary on Portland’s late indie-folk icon, “Heaven Adores You,” screening tonight at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul as the opening film in the Sound Unseen festival (7 p.m., $20-$25, details here).
“It was difficult to see how difficult the fame was for him,” one of Smith’s associates says early in the 104-minute movie, from Portland-bred first-time director Nickolas Rossi (who will answer questions after tonight’s screening).
The film opens with footage and recollections of Smith’s fateful appearance at the 1998 Academy Awards, where he performed “Miss Misery” from the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack -- ostensibly the beginning of the end. It then goes back and recounts his transformation from another noisy post-grunge alt-rocker to the acoustic bard of lore, with fun insights into Portland’s then-insular music scene and all-too-appropriate rainy, scene-setting imagery. Along the way, we see and hear Smith’s growing discomfort with the music industry and cultish yet sometimes fanatical fame, with some old interview footage that’s sometimes painful to watch.
Rossi found the right people to comment lovingly but candidly about Smith’s personality and eventual demise, leaning more on close personal friends than famous musician friends. The movie solemnly builds to details of the singer’s suicide in 2003, which is absolutely heartbreaking but not over-dramatized. There’s a noticeable lack of performance footage -- which seems ironic given that he would eventually play on one of TV’s most watched global telecasts – but Smith’s presence is nonetheless deeply felt.
Click here for full details on Sound Unseen 2014, also featuring movies on punk, jazz, ska, metal and shoegazer bands. Here's the schedule for the rest of the week:
- Thursday, Nov. 13 @ The Trylon
- 7 p.m.: Instrument (Fugazi documentary, 10th anniversary screening); Directed by Jem Cohen
- 9:15 p.m.: Looking for Johnny (Johnny Thunders documentary); Directed by Danny Garcia
- Thursday, Nov. 13 @ McNally Smith
- 7 p.m.: Metalhead (Feature film); Directed by Ragnar Bragason
- 9 p.m.: Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back (Quiet Riot documentary); Directed by Regina Russell
- Friday, Nov. 14 @ The Trylon
- 7 p.m.: Homemakers (Feature film); Directed by Colin Healey, who will be in attendance
- 9 p.m.: The Case of the Three Sided Dream (Featured film); Directed by Adam Kahan
- Friday, Nov. 14 @ McNally Smith
- 7 p.m.: Beautiful Noise (Shoegazer bands documentary); Directed by Eric Green
- 9 p.m.: Salad Days; (Washington, D.C., punk scene documentary); Directed by Scott Crawford
- Saturday, Nov. 15 @ McNally Smith
- 1 p.m.: Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound Directed by William J. Saunders
- 3 p.m.: Short news.
- 7 p.m.: The Other One: Bob Wier; Directed by Mike Fleiss (Competing)
- 9 p.m.: I Am A Knife With Legs (Feature film); Directed by Bennett Jones (Competing)
- Saturday, Nov. 15 @ The Trylon
- 7 p.m.: Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio (Documentary on New York studio that has hosted Sonic Youth, Afrika Bambaataa, Brian Eno); Directed by Sara Leavitt & Ryan Douglass
- 9 p.m.: Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck Five; Directed by Jenni Matz, who will be in attendance
- Sunday, Nov. 16 @ McNally Smith
- 1 p.m.: The Ballad of Shovels and Rope (Minnesota Premiere); Directed by Jace Freeman (Competing)
- 3 p.m.: Legends of Ska (Locally produced documentary); Directed by Brad Klein, who will be in attendance.
- 5 p.m.: Eternity: The Movie (Feature film; Directed by Ian Thorpe
- Sunday, Nov. 16 @ The Trylon
- 5 p.m.: Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women In Jazz (Midwest Premiere); Directed by Kay D. Ray
- 7 p.m.: The Possibilities Are Endless (Edwyn Collins documentary); Directed by James Hall & Edward Lovelace