Cobain: Montage of Heck: Film Review
Stars: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic
Director: Brett Morgen
Kurt Cobain - legend, junkie, father, suicide victim.
There's already so much which has been said about Cobain's brief 27 years on the earth and so much charted about the rise of Nirvana. So you could be forgiven for thinking this documentary had nothing new to cover, except to rake over the coals of long simmering resentments, reigniting old discussions about whether Courtney was the Yoko of the band and remember the tragedy of his passing.
But Brett Morgen (director of The Kid Stays in the Picture) manages to do something that rejuvenates the musical doco genre and breathes new life into a subject, long presumed fully researched.
Morgen was granted access to home movie footage from the Cobain family, access to Kurt's journals, drawings and tape recordings (which he didn't know existed); it's a wealth of information and one which gives an all access pass to the man's life, fears, hopes, dreams and consequently gets the most intimate insight into Cobain ever committed to celluloid.
Choosing to tell Cobain's story right from the start of his childhood years of misery in Aberdeen, Washington where he was a child of divorce (a rarity of the time) through to the bullying at school before the struggles and ultimate success of the band, this is the classic and time often told story of a tortured genius.
But Morgen chooses to use audio recordings from Cobain come vividly to life with animation, a move that borders on genuinely inspirational. Animations in the style of Waking Life / Waltz With Bashir flesh out the past, leap off the screen and bring to life what could have simply been dry talking heads. Morgen also opts for a very small number of interviewees (no Dave Grohl though) - including Cobain's first girlfriend who's never spoken before - which lends further intimacy to the proceedings (though it would have been beneficial to have heard more from Cobain Sr) and means the usual spouting talking heads who've been so outspoken on Cobain are kept quiet.
Pulling together footage from the band's early days through to Cobain's bizarre performance at the Reading Festival where he emerged in a wheelchair, the music is front and centre, guaranteed to give any Nirvana fan the aural thrill they seek.
The exhaustive nature of the doco and the wealth of material occasionally means that Morgen's direction sometimes feels a little overwhelmed, but the narrative thread is nicely woven through; however, it hits a minor stumbling block with a lag at about 90 minutes which is a surprise. Then home video footage from Kurt and Courtney's drug-addled time in their apartment stuns you into realising what was happening to the rocker and it's captivating in its weirdness as the pair loll around like Sid and Nancy before a damning Vanity Fair article takes aim.
Confessions from Love of a potential near-miss affair add new light to Cobain's first suicide attempt and a long bow is drawn to an inference that Cobain's fear of humiliation could have led to suicide (an implication that could have been probed further), but there's never any vilification here of any parties, merely an access to all the materials to help you draw your own conclusions. Eqaully, footage of a clearly drug-addled Cobain with his daughter Frances Bean is upsetting and harrowing, a sign that a father was losing his way.
With the lights out, it's no less dangerous - and Cobain: Montage of Heck, which will become the bar to which all future musical documentaries will be held up, certainly does entertain us. Perhaps in ways that really almost feel a little too close to the subject.
Cobain: Montage of Heck (based on a title from a mixtape Morgen found) is both exhaustive and exhausting (it could have stood to lose maybe 20 minutes) but it's a raw, unflinching, surprisingly intimate portrait of a hyper-sensitive artist and an unwilling spokesman for a generation, who will find new fans some 20 years after his death.