For Better or Worse, Elliott Smith's Life and Death Documented in New Film
Published Nov 27, 2009Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith died in 2003 in an apparent suicide, but his cult following remains as strong as ever. There have been two posthumous albums - the incomplete From a Basement on the Hill and the rarities compilation New Moon - and speculation about his death still persists (fuelled by the fact that autopsy couldn't couldn't conclusively prove that his death was a suicide).
Given the continued interest in his life and death, it's no surprise to hear of a new documentary entitled Searching for Elliott Smith. Directed by Gil Reyes, the movie is based on interviews conducted with Smith's friends and acquaintances. Among those interviewed are estate archivist Larry Crane, singer May Lou Lord and director Gus Van Saint (whose Good Will Hunting soundtrack was a milestone in Smith's career). Perhaps the most notable interviewee, however, is Smith's ex-girlfriend Jennifer Chiba, who was in the apartment at the time of the songwriter's death and has subsequently been the focus of many of the unsavoury rumours surrounding the suicide.
The film has already debuted at the CMJ festival, but plans for a wide release have yet to be announced. According to the official synopsis, the documentary explores "the dark motivations behind a musical genius," and is apparently free of sensationalist, Kurt & Courtney-style sleuthing.
A review by Brooklyn blogger Elizabeth Nolan Brown, however, tells a different story. According to Brown, who saw the film at CMJ, much of Searching for Elliott Smith is devoted to answering the "did Chiba do it?" question. What's worse, she describes the movie as "one of the most poorly-made documentaries I have ever seen."
Apparently, Reyes was unable to score right's to any of Smith's albums or performances, meaning that the movie contains no music. Instead, the film features such things as a tacky segment comparing Elliott Smith to Matt Damon's character from Good Will Hunting, as well as convoluted attempts to absolve Chiba of suspicion.
Hopefully, the film will receive a wider release soon so we can all make up our own minds. But based on this early report, it sounds like those hoping for the definitive documentary about Smith's life will have to keep waiting.