KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK directed by Brett Morgen (USA, 2015)

€12 is a bit steep for the price of a cinema ticket but this was billed as an ‘event’ rather than a straight movie so in the spirit of the theme I thought ‘What the heck!’

The montage of the movie’s title comprises a plethora of mostly unseen home movie footage. This gives the dubious privilege of watching Kurt Cobain grow up in public, starting out as a cute kid and ending as a jaded junky.

Debates will rage about when it all started to go wrong. Was it when his parents divorced?, Was it all down to his addiction to hard drugs? Was it his inability to cope with Nevermind’s overnight success? or Was it mitigated by his relationship with Courtney Love?

You could make a strong case that it was all or none of these.

The reality is that Cobain seemed to be born with a suicidal gene and the images essentially serve as a chronicle of a death foretold. You only have to see the scrawled writings and drawings to see how he lived and died as a tortured soul that those around him witnessed but were incapable of curing.

Let's play happy families! Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and baby Frances Bean.

Let’s play happy families! Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and baby Frances Bean.

These home movie clips are interspersed with animated sequences and a series of interviews that are more about his life than his music. His mom comes across as sensitive and grounded, while his father seems both dumb and distant.

Courtney Love is given ample opportunity to present herself as a woman wronged but doesn’t seem much inclined to appease her numerous critics. It’s hard to imagine anyone less qualified to contribute to the rehabilitation of Cobain. It would be unfair to blame her directly for his death but she certainly didn’t help much either. The warts and all scenes of her and Cobain shot at home are painful to watch.

A conspicuous absence is the voice of Dave Grohl . Brett Morgen says that he did interview the drummer/Foo Fighter but not in time for this to be included in the final cut. I reckon he’s being economical with the truth on this issue. Krist Novoselic gets to say his piece and looks appropriately distraught when looking back on the rise and fall of Nirvana. I suspect Grohl would have given a brasher and more conventionally rock and roll perspective that doesn’t fit in with subdued tone of the documentary.

What this movie does show is that Kurt Cobain was never just playing the part of self-destructive rock star; he inhabited this role to the point that there is no sense of it being merely an act. This is why recordings and films of his primal and visceral performances are still so affecting.

Morgen’s film is a brave attempt to convey how Cobain straddled the fine line between genius and insanity. Even with the benefit of hindsight it is difficult to imagine how the tragic end could have been averted.

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