You’d be forgiven for thinking that Kurt Cobain’s life has already been looked at from every possible angle. The late, Nirvana frontman and icon has been the subject of at least two feature films (Last Days and Kurt & Courtney) not to mention countless biographies and magazine articles. But Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is quite possibly the most thorough and definitive biography and documentary about the man and the legend.
For this film, Morgen was given unprecedented access to the Cobain archive including his prolific work in his journals plus artworks, tapes, photographs and home movies. The director was also given creative freedom from Cobain’s family (even though his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain serves as an executive producer here). Kurt Cobain was ultimately a complicated fellow and Montage of Heck attempts to show how complex and tortured this artist was by capturing his essence and devoting just as much time to his successes as his foibles.
The story is told virtually chronologically initially with Cobain’s parents, Don Cobain and Wendy O’Connor; his sister, Kim and his stepmother, Jenny Cobain. The former two were young when they had Kurt who at first was a happy and cherubic toddler who seemed so sweet, cute and innocent. Things changed when he grew up into a hyperactive child and his parents divorced. This meant he experienced lots of shame and embarrassment and was shuttled around from household to household and virtually rejected by his only family.
Morgan describes a lot of Cobain’s childhood and his teenage years through animations. Some of these are recreations of what it might have been like for Kurt while others see his own drawings brought to life. The title, Montage of Heck is taken from a mixtape that Kurt made in 1987 and this documentary is a sprawling, multimedia gem that sees Cobain’s words woven together with his art, writing, music and pictures as well as rare home movies and present day talking heads (but Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl is noticeably absent from these).
Other interviewees in this documentary include Nirvana bassist, Krist Novoselic; Cobain’s first girlfriend, Tracey Marander; and his wife and Hole frontwoman, Courtney Love. The latter is honest in her answers and candid as she reveals that Cobain aspired to earn a tonne of cash and spend his time doing drugs. Cobain’s deterioration into mental illness, addiction and troubles with the press are also chronicled here. This is particularly sad and will leave some viewers questioning what might have happened if he hadn’t committed suicide and got the help he needed. That said, the moments of him at home with Courtney and his daughter Frances are very tender and sweet indeed.
The special features on this DVD are a tad disappointing, especially when you consider how great the actual film is. A trailer is offered as well as extended interviews with Don Cobain and the director (the latter one was also played at the end of the film during its theatrical release). These extras don’t really do this creative and innovative feature justice, especially when you consider the truly inspired moments in this documentary (like the string and children’s choirs singing and transforming Nirvana songs).
Montage of Heck is a raw and intense film. It tries to get to the core of Cobain’s troubled, creative and dysfunctional existence and at times it does this too well, making you feel like you’ve intruded on a very private or intimate moment that wasn’t meant for your eyes. At the end of the day Cobain was a charismatic, smart and talented artist who was plagued by many different contradictions and demons. Montage of Heck is as much a celebration of the man as it is a heart-breaking look at his busy and complicated life.
Originally published on 15 June 2015 at the following website: http://heavymag.com.au/kurt-cobain-montage-of-heck-dvd-review/
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