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Searching for Elliott Smith (2009)

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The unauthorized biography of the Patron Saint of Indie Rock.


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Credited cast:
David Bailey ...
Jennifer Chiba ...
Christopher Cooper ...
Larry Crane ...
Sean Croghan ...
Steve Hanft ...
Pete Krebs ...
Tony Lash ...
Mary Lou Lord ...
Jason Mason ...
David McConnell ...
Robin Peringer ...
Elliott Smith ...
Himself (archive footage)
Alex Steininger ...


Elliott Smith's intensely intimate songs helped popularize lo-fi, indie-rock: a traditionally underground genre until Smith's mainstream effort 'Miss Misery' took Hollywood by surprise. But even after an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, he managed to fly mostly under the radar. And Smith wanted it that way. After his mysterious death in 2003, (suicide, accident, murder?) Smith's peers avoided the media. Granting very few print interviews and NO on-camera interviews. Until now. From his high school days as a National Merit Scholar, to his early work in the Portland rock band, "Heatmiser", to critical acclaim and his tragic passing. We learn the dark motivations behind a musical genius. And discover how psychic pain can also produce timeless art. Written by Anonymous

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Release Date:

23 October 2009 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Buscando a Elliott Smith  »

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Searching For Elliott Smith is, in my mind, exactly what a documentary should be: Informative, fair, and completely lacking the opinions of the filmmaker.

I hosted the first showing of this documentary in Colorado July 28th 2012, and can honestly say that I loved it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Elliott briefly twice in the mid 90's after shows after falling in love with Heatmeiser, and have been a huge fan ever since. Coming from that standpoint, there were several details that stood out to me about this movie: 1) The director is almost non-existent. This isn't a Michael Moore style documentary. No one every appears on camera except the people being interviewed. There are no voice overs, and the directors voice is only quietly heard once or twice asking a question. 99.9% of the movie is people who knew Elliott very well, telling stories and discussing their thoughts and experiences on his life.

2) It covers Elliott's entire life in music, starting with high school. Even though I have been a huge fan since the early 90's, and read The Big Nothing twice, there were great stories and insights into Elliott's life that I had never heard.

3) The humor. By all accounts Elliott was a very funny guy when hanging around his friends, and hearing those stories, or seeing video of him dissing a song he wrote as "sounding like the Eagles" made for many laugh out loud moments in a movie that often moved me to tears.

4) The interviews with Jennifer Chiba. For some reason this has become a "controversial" part of the film, but I greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear from her, in her own words, what happened that night. Whether she is believable or not is really beyond the point to me, each viewer can make up their own mind on that. I prefer to have as much information as possible, and the inclusion of the interviews with her was one of the most vital parts of the film to me.

5)The lack of conclusion or opinion. This is what good reporting is. Provide as much information to the viewer as possible, and allow them to draw their own conclusions. This film is not a fan boy tribute to an artist they loved. There were moments that were very tough for me, as a huge fan, to watch, but it is exactly those moments that were the most informative. In my view the greatest success of the film is that it does not paint Elliott as an angel who could do no wrong, nor as an out of control self destructive who was doomed to end badly. It shows Elliott to be what I am sure he really was, a complicated musical genius who touched millions of people with his songs.

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