Since the release of the documentary ‘Heaven Adores You’, I have seen a lot of reviews popping up everywhere, and I have read the majority of them because the film hasn’t still had a screening in Los Angeles, for obscure reasons… Isn’t it the city where Elliott Smith spent his last years, the city where he died? Anyway, this leads me to the topic of his death, a topic that the film seems to carefully avoid all along.
In the years following Elliott’s death, articles had a tendency to mention his death as a ‘suicide’, except for a few more informed articles, written by Christine Pelisek and published by the LA Weekly (‘Another View of Elliott Smith’, ‘The Final Moments of Elliott Smith’s Life’, ‘The Elliott Smith Mystery’) which questioned the circumstances of the singer’s death as early as 2004.
After the publication of Liam Gowing’s article in Spin magazine in 2004, the release of Gil Reyes’ ‘Searching for Elliott Smith’ in 2009, and the publication of W.T. Schultz’s book ‘Torment Saint’ in 2013 — which the author sold as the definitive Elliott Smith’s biography — you would think that the suicide story had definitively won over, as these three pieces heavily tried to convince everyone that Elliott had committed suicide. However it is far from being the case, the reviews for ‘Heaven Adores You’ are in, and despite the fact that the movie doesn’t even come close to cover Elliott’s last time on earth, the media mentioning his death, stay very neutral, or even emphasize the inconclusive aspect of the case; just look at this list:
The Quietus: ‘Given his death in 2003 – a death that has yet to be officially deemed a suicide – any film about Elliott Smith is, in some respects, going to be a tough one.’
The Daily Beast: ‘While there’s presumably still interest in the more gossipy aspects of Smith’s life—which ended in 2003 with a stab wound to the chest and was never officially declared a suicide by the Los Angeles Department of Coroner, according to a 2011 report from OC Weekly….’
San Francisco Film Society: ‘Smith died in 2003 at age 34, leaving behind a legacy of timeless tunes and unanswered questions about his troubled life and shocking death.’
Hey Reverb: ‘Smith died of two stab wounds in the chest at the age of 34, the cause of which are still inconclusive.’
AXS: ‘Smith’s own death in October 21, 2003 is still shrouded in controversy. To most of the world, the troubled artist committed suicide, but the official autopsy report was seen as inconclusive and could not officially label his death as such. Many fans continue to accuse his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, of wielding the knife that took his life, but nothing conclusive has come of these accusations.’
Portland Monthly Mag: ‘In the sustained media coverage that has followed Elliott Smith’s tragic death in 2003 (some maintain the alleged suicide was foul play), many of his friends and family have remained silent.’
Mother Jones: ‘Smith, who suffered from depression and addiction, died at age 34 of two stab wounds to the chest.
LA Review of Books: ‘Smith died five years after the interview, under equivocal circumstances, bleeding to death from two stab wounds to the chest in his bathroom.’
It is the Willamette Weekly which actually goes directly to the topic, in an interview with producer Kevin Moyer:
Willamette Weekly: ‘Nowhere in the film is his death specifically referred to as a suicide, and the title cards describing his death are very matter of fact. Were there conversations specifically about how exactly to address his death?
Kevin Moyer: There was a lot of conversation about how to do that properly, accurately and respectfully. Both opinions are out there, and we didn’t want to chase one side or another. What we set out to do was just state the facts. The title cards, that wording was very meticulous, because we didn’t want to lean any one way. We wanted it to be absolutely accurate, but we wanted it to be fair. The title cards are things that, no matter who believes what, everybody agrees on: He died from a stab wound to the heart. He didn’t have any drugs in his system. We wanted to state the facts that, no matter what people’s opinions are, the statements made in the film are the ones we can all agree on.’
Despite Reyes and Schultz’s aggressive campaign, a lot of people are, at worst, avoiding to even write or pronounce the word suicide, at best, pointing out the unanswered questions… at least this is a big progress compared to the reviews that appeared after the publication of Torment Saint’, with Schultz declaring everywhere ‘I’m convinced that he committed suicide’… I have been called ‘an idiot’ by Reyes, ‘a dishonest fan’ and ‘a murder theorist’ by Schultz, but who cares when they are losing in the media! Meanwhile the case is still in limbo.
Originally published on Rock NYC (November 17 2014)