Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is a documentary on yours truly, Kurt Cobain. An exploration into the mindset of Cobain as an artist, loner, junkie, dad and cultural phenomenon; the facets he took on throughout his short journey.
For anyone unaware or not very familiar with Kurt Cobain, he was the front man and guitarist of Nirvana. The grunge pioneers of the ’90s, Nirvana accompanied their low-fi buzz with the contrast of Cobain’s screaming and melodic vocals. Connecting and reaching out to teenagers around the world, due to Nirvana’s wide appeal and the mass media following their every move, not to mention drugs and illness, Kurt couldn’t escape. No spoilers here. When Cobain killed himself, an important person had gone, causing hysteria and copycat teens to end their lives. To many, his legacy lives on.
Realistically, this is a documentary for a fan or at least someone who appreciates Nirvana or what Cobain did as an artist. Although this may be then limited in appeal, what the fans have here is a very enjoyable and respectful documentary; everything you could have possibly hoped for.
Having the Cobain family on board, including Frances Bean Cobain (Kurt and Courtney’s daughter), does reassure you that this is one of the more sincere and honest documentaries on the man out there. More so than, for example, Nick Broomfield’s Kurt and Courtney (1998), which only seems to point the finger at Courtney Love as the one to blame for Kurt’s death. Montage of Heck is nuanced, allowing the viewer to see a different side of the artist and allowing them to make up their own minds.
If you sit till the end credits, director Brett Morgen discusses how he made the film. Perhaps this was a little self-indulgent, but it does serve to see his passion. It is also hard to critique what Morgen has done when the images he uses speak for themselves. In saying that, Morgen has no doubt given this doco more life than the talking-heads format usually called upon.
By shaping the documentary around Cobain’s Montage of Heck, a Cobain mix tape that featured ideas, concepts, music bytes and streams of consciousness, Morgen invites us to witness Cobain in a different and revealing way. Samples are used against animation, enabling Kurt’s ideas to be more personalised and visual. Cobain’s art and scribbles from diary entries are also used, further pinpointing what he was feeling.
At times, it all feels a bit much, at least to take in. When issues such as family come into context, it does feel like you’re preying into Cobain’s childhood, hinting at exploitation and even slight disrespect to our subject. At the same time, it feels right, like it’s from Cobain’s perspective that we are given insight. Home videos from Kurt and Courtney are also provided, dark and disturbing bits of footage depicting them on heroin. Again, while it’s uncomfortable to sit through, this is about as honest as you’ll get.
If you are ready to learn the truth, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is an honest document on the iconic ’90s figure. There is some excellent live footage on offer as well, taking the edge off a little and allowing some time to reflect on what made the band so important. However, the most impressive thing is the way Morgen places different Nirvana songs against key moments of Cobain’s life, truly rewarding moments that help paint the perfect picture. Hearing the lyrics and the instrumentals at work gels beautifully with Morgen’s carefully selected footage. Ultimately, it’s Cobain’s lyrics that really spell out what he experienced, as sad and truthful as it all may be.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10