I went to the Norwood, which is so bourgie it’s ridiculous, to see “Searching for Elliott Smith,” the Elliott Smith “documentary” on Friday night. It was raining, appropriately. I have to say- though anything Elliott Smith should make me happy- this documentary did not.
It was very odd and low budget and utilized mediocre graphics, sound and editing. But all of that I could dismiss if the story held together. But it didn’t, sadly.
Gil Reyes directed “Searching for Elliott Smith” and though he clearly tried very hard to make a great documentary, the picture ended up being a vehicle for Smith’s fiance, Jennifer Chiba, to try and vindicate herself.
Smith’s death is still an open case because the police can’t prove that Smith killed himself or that Chiba killed him. In the police report and/or coroner’s report it is mentioned that Chiba “refused to speak with detectives.” On camera Chiba denied this and even took Reyes and the camera to the LA Police Department. It was a strange turn of events in the documentary and it almost seemed like a set up. Why didn’t Chiba attempt to speak to detectives 6 years ago, when Smith died?
It’s really too bad that the doc. couldn’t hold itself together because Reyes interviewed several people for it who gave illuminating interviews about Smith. Mary Lou Lord spoke of his beauty and his fear of record companies and becoming “corrupted.” Smith’s longtime Portland friend, roommate and tour mate Sean Croghan spoke about their early days together, Smith’s “dry wit” and even about Smith’s personal background (though when asked about physical abuse he said he didn’t feel comfortable.) Gus Van Sant was interviewed and so were the owners of Cavity Search Records who put out Heatmiser and “Roman Candle.” But Chiba took the show.
It was painfully said to hear her recount what happened the day Smith died. She cried through the interview and it was very real.
Reyes answered some questions after the screening and I asked him how he got the characters to be in the film and if he would have made it without their participation. He said he originally made it without the participation of Jennifer Chiba and when he showed her a rough cut she said she wanted in, which in and of itself, is odd.
He also said that the LAPD still have Smith’s journal. WHAT?!
Everyone who loves Elliott Smith should see “Searching for Elliott Smith.” But just don’t expect too much.