Director: Brett Morgen
Starring: Kurt Cobain, Don Cobain, Jenny Cobain, Kim Cobain, Courtney Love
Nirvana has long held a fascination amongst not only fans, but any persons aware of their unavoidable musical dominance in the early 1990s. The bands’ genuine rock presence in an era of dance pop was topped only by the intrigue of their enigmatic front man, Kurt Cobain. This documentary film focuses upon Cobain’s life in its entirety, condensing his chaotic 27 years of life into a mesmerising 132 minutes of cinema.
The first documentary to be produced with cooperation of Cobain’s family, work began when Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, approached director Brett Morgan (Crossfire Hurricane) with the idea. Seven years in the making, with full access to the family’s archives, what we get is an in-depth, brutally honest depiction of Cobain’s life and ultimately, death. Included in this, is a trove of interviews with those closest to Cobain narrating his early troubled years, home video footage in abundance, previously unheard Nirvana tracks and most intriguing for me, Cobain’s artwork and diary entries. Speaking in uncomfortable honesty, these entries depict Cobain’s first sexual encounter, his first experiences with drugs and his first contemplations and attempt at suicide.
The audio files are animated, fascinatingly in a dystopian style, tellingly of Cobain’s skewed view of reality. Animators Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Husling produced the flawless depictions, complete with an animated Cobain, focusing on not only the shocking aspects but also the mundane aspects of his life that make it unique, surreal, and all the more compelling. Interspersed with live Nirvana shows and interviews with family members, childhood friends and the troubled Courtney Love, the result is more film-esque than any documentary I have ever experienced.
As the film picks up speed, my view of Cobain as a tormented yet exceptionally talented artist slowed, leaving me wondering how much “trouble” could warrant a person to be so selfish. Painful to view, my opinion fully formed at footage of Cobain clearly high out of his head whilst with his only daughter (and co-exec producer to the film) Frances Bean Cobain. This film is not intended to save Cobain’s reputation, but to offer an honest representation which left me to form my own view, as any good documentary should. It just so happens that I prefer my rose-tinted view beforehand.
The release of ‘Montage Of Heck’ is somewhat complicated, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. A soft, limited cinema release across the UK coincided with an even more restricted cinematic release in the US, for a film that I would usually argue deserves the largest of all fanfares. However, I prefer that this film has slipped under the radar, reaching only a select few to experience the magic, and making it feel all the more special. The film was broadcast on HBO, of course, and is also now out on DVD this side of the pond. It is also worth noting that Morgen has announced a soundtrack to accompany this visual masterpiece, consisting of 85 minutes of previously unheard recordings – a chance to take a piece of Cobain home with you.
The true artistic value of this piece is immeasurable. Never before have I been presented with such an uncomfortable, yet perfectly poised story that I would have watched again immediately after. Emotionally draining, ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck’ presents an intriguing balance of art and fact, a must-see film for those remotely interested in the legacy of Cobain, and indeed Nirvana.