THE ANNUAL Reel Music festival gets underway this week, dumping a wealth of music films onto Portland filmgoers for the 32nd year running. It kicks off with the much-anticipated Heaven Adores You, a stirring (and suitably depressing) documentary about Elliott Smith from director Nickolas Rossi.
Heaven Adores You is Portland's letter to Smith—it's not so much the story of Smith's life as it is the story of the friends he left behind. When these characters include Larry Crane, Joanna Bolme, Sean Croghan, Pete Krebs, Slim Moon, and other fixtures on the Portland music scene, the scope expands beyond Smith to provide an illuminating window into 1990s Portland. There's great insight into Smith's early days, from high school to Heatmiser to his hushed, hesitant early solo works. And to offset the lack of archival footage from those early years, there's LOTS of coverage of Portland streets, looking dark and rain-soaked and melancholy—like they're straight from the lyrics of an Elliott Smith song, naturally.
To its credit, Heaven Adores You refuses to discuss the sordid details of Smith's tragic death in 2003. Indeed, when Smith moves away from Portland in the late '90s, the film, in its understated way, says goodbye to him.
Another worthwhile farewell is Razing the Bar (Thurs Oct 16), a great documentary about punk venue the Funhouse closing its doors to make way for condos. While it takes place in our neighboring city up north, Seattle's stealthy transformation is absolutely relevant and vital to Portland's current situation.
The festival closes on October 22 with Super Duper Alice Cooper, an entertaining but weirdly laudatory documentary about the rise and fall (and rise) of Vince Furnier, who transformed himself into the notorious Alice Cooper a few years before KISS put on their makeup. There are some scorching glimpses of the early days when Alice Cooper was a band, but it's mostly focused on Furnier's redemption from beer and cocaine.