Mills ended up tapping Reitzell

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©Torvioll

“Mills ended up tapping Reitzell to work on his first feature-length film, Thumbsucker. To soundtrack the film’s downer tone, they wanted to feature Elliott Smith. It had only been a few years since the release of what would turn out to be Smith’s final studio album, Figure 8, but the singer-songwriter was crippled with fear and doubt. “Elliott was paralyzed, he couldn’t go into his own recording studio, he was scared to death of it,” recalls Reitzell. But if anyone could coax Smith back into a studio, it was Reitzell. “Through my working with Kevin, he was able to make music again, which he hadn’t been able to do in 13 years. The people around Elliott knew that. I was the nurturer, I was the guy that could get Mike what he needed for the film and protect Elliott from Hollywood.”
Every day, Reitzell would drive to Echo Park, pick up Smith, and drive to West Hollywood, where the film was being edited. “He would get in the car with this Case Logic binder of 300 CDs,” he said. “It was all of his music. He had had his music stolen from him, so whenever he left the house, he took it all with him.” They had recorded a few songs for the film when Smith died; ultimately, the soundtrack duties fell to the Polyphonic Spree. The resultant soundtrack wound up very different from what Reitzell originally intended, and he wonders at what might have been had Smith lived. Reitzell says that he even tried to put Smith in contact with Shields, but that Shields never got around to calling the troubled singer. “I think Kevin will regret that the rest of his life. He wanted to — he just never…” He trails off. “It’s Kevin.”

“Elliott passed away during the making of that film and that was very difficult for me. I know it was very hard for Mike Mills, the film’s director too. We just had to stop for a while. Mike brought in Tim from the Polyphonic Spree to finish the score. The sound of the film turned into something that was more ‘up with people’ — like a big youthful rainbow choir. I think we both needed the film to go that way after what happened to Elliott.”

Brian Reitzell

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