May 17, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Brett Morgen, 2015
Morgan was able to get one thing that previous filmmakers have been unsuccessful in getting with previous Kurt Cobain pieces: ACCESS. Without the blessing of the Cobain family, this movie doesn’t exist. No film has really ever been able to paint such an elaborate portrait of Kurt Cobain the person. Montage manages to do this, at times even showing you more than you probably would have liked to see. Hearing about Cobain’s early sexual encounters, his dysfunctional family, trouble fitting in to social circles growing up, drug use. Some of it is hard to watch. But you really see the evolution of the man from toddler to modern rock god.

At one point in the film Cobain’s mother tells us a story of when Kurt walked into the room, in his hand the master tape of Nevermind. She urged him to put it on, making a point to say that she wanted the volume up and saying she liked to listen to music loud. She said that she had an immediate emotional reaction where she told Kurt that this record is going to change everything, that this will change everything for him. I call bullshit on the story. The thing is with Nirvana, is they were one of those bands that we all listened to in the 90’s. We knew that they were the harbingers of the grunge movement, that we liked them. But we weren’t able to really visualize the cultural impact that they would have at that point. Of course now everyone looks back and says that they changed everything, that Cobain is a genius and how influential Nirvana was to future rock bands. But when you’re actually living in the moment, you can’t fully realize the historical impact yet. Because it’s not history yet! That being said, the remaining 98% of the interviews feel very honest. And why wouldn’t they be? Courtney Love, the elder Cobain’s, Krist Novoselic… they really have nothing to gain at this point by not being honest in this setting. They might as well be candid, be open. Because it’s quite clear that this is a sincere and respectful study of one of the rock genre’s greatest figures. One thing you realize after watching this is Frances Bean, who was so unfortunate to lose her father at such a young age, was probably able to get to know her father from this vast trove of memories that he had left behind. The 145 minute running time feels like it could have been cut down a bit to a more digestible one-sitting length. There is a good portion of the film that involves animation, where a lot of Cobain’s chicken scratches and notebook ramblings come alive on the screen. While you don’t really want to exclude any of the great interviews that take place, perhaps some of the animation could have been removed.

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