Jem Cohen is gaining some rapid attention for his wonderful film Museum Hours (2012), which is already being rightfully praised for the delicacy and sophistication of his direction. He brought those same qualities to the 1997 documentary short Lucky Three, which details an intimate session with the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith.
Smith performs three songs here, two of them original and one a cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen”, and they are all put together with a genuine affection for the music and the subject. The performance was recorded in a small studio and features Smith playing his songs solo, with just his voice and acoustic guitar ringing out. This footage is intercut with video of the singer smoking outside in the rain and of cars driving down a busy street, lending the music a plaintive visual accompaniment. It’s a very powerful work, especially when one considers Smith’s eventual fate, and that is in no small part due to Cohen’s perceptive and deeply felt filmmaking.