“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (2015)
One of the most anticipated and in demand screenings at SXSW was the documentary “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.” It’s an intimate look at the man, done with the full cooperation of the Cobain family. The film contains never before seen behind-the-scenes footage and audio that hasn’t been heard before. Of course, it helps when the executive producer of the film is Francis Bean Cobain, Courtney Love, and Kurt Cobain’s daughter.
For many of his generation, Kurt Cobain was an icon, someone who changed the musical landscape with almost one guitar cord. Young people were inspired to look and play music from the small bars of Seattle. On one hand, this documentary shows how Cobain pushed his music and his band to new heights, but this was a tortured soul that often didn’t want to be the center of attention.
Writer / director Brett Morgan has created a fascinating look the life of Cobain, trying to get inside his head. The film uses his illustrated journals, never before heard audio recordings that Cobain did starting at an early age, and interviews with immediate family members, including a very frank Courtney Love to tell his story. Morgan lets Cobain narrate a good deal of the film, using the lost audio recordings or interviews that he did, creating a moving narrative that gives us insight into his thoughts and feelings at the time. A number of the audio scenes in the film are accompanied by single cell animation, giving the picture to the voice.
Morgan does a good job of managing archival footage with interviews with family, friends, Nirvana band mate, bassist Krist Novoselic and Courtney. We get insight into Kurt’s difficult childhood, one marked by a longing for a traditional family. It’s something Kurt was always searching for, sometimes even manufacturing for himself. He never attained that feeling he was part of a family until he and Courtney had Francis and by then; his heroin addiction got in the way of that ideal setting.
Interviews with his mother, father and his first girlfriend show a kid who had a musical ability from early on but was someone who was constantly out of place, never quite fitting in at home or at school. There didn’t seem to be a family member that could control or communicate with Kurt for any length of time, which contributed to his feeling isolated and misunderstood. Kurt also began experiencing stomach pain very early on in his life, and it seemed at times, to consume him, to the point that he turned to heroin to escape the pain.
Morgan brings to the center of the interviews, the two people that were closest with Kurt and had the most insight into what made him tick, Novoselic and Love. Novelistic is handed in his guilt of not being able to see the signs that Kurt was going to commit suicide. Love is brutally honest about her relationship with Kurt and their drug use. Morgan does a great job of not giving Love’s entire interview at one time, kind of dispensing it in the film when it’s needed to move the story or illustrate a point. Love is painfully honest about her time with Kurt, even admitting to taking heroin during the early stages of pregnancy with Francis. I don’t know if Francis is incredibly lucky not to suffer the effects, or if it’s attributable to Love saying she could quit the drug at any time.
Probably the most important and at times, heartbreaking scenes in the film are the home movies that Kurt and Courtney shot, both before and after Francis was born. There are a number of very tender scenes between Francis as a baby and her parents, as they doted on the obvious love of their lives.
Certainly, fans of Nirvana will be thrilled with all the footage and the amount of music from the band contained in this documentary. However, because the film concentrates solely on the life of Cobain and what made him tick, the founding of the band is never touched upon in much detail. While appearing in a number of archival footage scenes, band member Dave Growl, isn’t interviewed by the filmmakers, a critical missing voice in the film. There is enough concert footage (some of them behind the scenes); including the famous MTV “Unplugged” concert, that fans will be happy with all the music that plays throughout the film.
“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” while it doesn’t give us all the answers, it does give us insight into a tortured but talent man who all too briefly led us to a musical revolution. It’s a brilliant film that is times moving and thoughtful, giving us a clue on how a troubled but highly intelligent Kurt Cobain saw the world. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
For more of Mike’s movie reviews / interviews click here.