Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is an authorized documentary chronicling the life and times of the Nirvana singer, which is available now on HBO from filmmaker Brett Morgan.
An authorized documentary on the late musician Kurt Cobain, from his early days in Aberdeen, Washington to his success and downfall with the grunge band Nirvana.
I grew up a Nirvana fan, much like every other kid in the 90’s and when singer Kurt Cobain died in 1994 at the young age of 27; I didn’t know then what the longterm effects would be not only on me but the entire musical landscape in general. Cobain was a true artist and visionary but what this documentary does from front to back is show you that this young man, this kid, was really just a troubled human being like all of us, right from the very start.
Director Brett Morgen takes viewers on a rollercoaster of emotion and instead of utilizing voiceover or narration to explain exactly how Nirvana became the phenom that it was, we instead get a plethora of never before seen home video footage of the singer from the early and later days of he and his family’s life.
Yes there are brand new interviews with Courtney Love, Cobain’s parents and even Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic but the meat of Montage of Heck comes courtesy of the home videos which are arranged in order to deliver an emotional retrospective of the singer’s life. It’s inspired by Cobain’s infamous journals, which were published years ago, but that’s essentially what this documentary is – bringing those messy pages to life. For non-fans this technique may come across as muddled and confusing but I was enthralled. I will say that I greatly missed any sort of new interview with Dave Grohl however and I think I have the right to be miffed at the exclusion of the former Nirvana drummer. But you know how that relationship goes considering this documentary was made with the consent of Kurt’s widow Courtney…
The use of animation with voiceover clips from Kurt himself, were a really interesting addition and something I’ve not seen done before. They were beautifully produced and added an entirely new and unique spin on the docu-genre. When Cobain recalls his first sexual encounter with a mentally challenged neighbor I couldn’t help but cringe at the brutal honesty and to see some of it animated only accelerated that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I loved seeing a three year old Cobain playing guitar or holding some of the very first shows with Krist in what looked like some shabby bedroom in his friends’ house, but the takeaway that will stick with me the most were those videos of an obliterated Kurt and Courtney. Heroin is an evil bitch and although we never see the couple shoot up on film, I’m assuming we were witness to the residual highs that followed directly. It was a sad but brutally honest look into the life of this singer who at the time was on the cover of Rolling Stone during the day but went home to something that looked like Trainspotting — and we watch him waste away.
Seeing Cobain with his infant daughter Frances on video were some of the most heartfelt moments of any documentary that I’ve witnessed in a long time. If Cobain seemed like a depressed man to us all, he certainly had an essence of happiness to him whenever he was around his little girl. But even that didn’t last as one of the final videos we see of the singer features him barely able to stay awake while holding her.
The documentary ends abruptly and it doesn’t explore his death or even take the time to reflect upon it — so be prepared for that. Montage of Heck was meant to take fans into the mind of a rock singer who never sought fame. Cobain wrote and played music because it was the only thing that made him happy as a kid who was neglected at every turn from his family.
If you’re one of ‘those’ fans who still think Love murdered or had something to do with Cobain’s death and you refuse to accept otherwise than Montage of Heck certainly isn’t for you. I’ll admit that I’ve always disliked Love but after seeing how damaged Cobain was himself even before meeting his wife, it’s hard to put all of the hate on his widow. Kurt was a damaged soul and Montage of Heck is the closest we’ll get to seeing what he went through during his short but fascinating life.