Review: Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck

Review by Nathan Miller
Limited Release in Theaters - On HBO

Nirvana was a 90's musical sensation that continues to maintain relevancy decades later. A huge factor in why they are still talked about today is because of their frontman: Kurt Cobain. He was a musical genius that wrote lyrics which could speak to your inner demons just as they expressed his own. He was a man that was plagued with drug and emotional problems which made him an easy target for journalists to criticize. Academy Award nominated director Brett Morgen was approached by Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, on doing a documentary based around her late husband. There have been countless unauthorized documentaries, but this was the first with access to all of Kurt's personal and family archives.  This documentary contains unheard songs as well as unreleased home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, journals, demos, and songbooks. The delivery of all this material is very artistic in nature, and it paints out many horrifying scenes of neglect and pain that many fans would be surprised to learn about. Pieces of his disgruntled past come together as his loved ones and friends reflect on their experiences with him. Also, the film utilizes animation in showcasing key moments of his life as well as his artwork that was twisted and full of life even with being still on the paper. As Montage of Heck starts from his birth and makes its way to his explosion into a musical icon, there is a depression that clouds this movie and there is no doubting that this is the most vivid interpretation of who Kurt Cobain was so far.

The Good

The reason this documentary works is because of its no holds barred approach to the darkness that filled Cobain's heart. It showed Kurt as a very broken man that yearned for acceptance from his family even till the end. Whether it was his parents being unable to handle him as a child, other school kids taunting him for trying to sleep with a mentally challenged girl, or his constant issue with drugs, there is no denying that the filmmaker captured the real Kurt Cobain. It showed that even from humble beginnings, the pressure of living up to what his father expected of him and even of what people in general expected from him was very detrimental on his psyche. The visuals of the film were excellently executed with the right mixture of raw footage, Nirvana footage, and animation. It kept the flow of the documentary smooth and provocative even as it took you to places that should have been dark and hard to watch. I truly enjoyed that the filmmaker did not paint him to be a good person. It showed many times how he took advantage of those who cared about him which made his ascension in the rock world possible. Although that is not to say he did it purposely, it showed just how dedicated and focused he was in attaining his goals.

A major reason why this film works is due to the intimacy of the content. The interviews with his parents alone could bring a tear to your eye as you can see the struggle in their body language when talking about Kurt. The film showed behind the scenes of what many tabloids and magazines were speculating about and showed to an extent just how much of it was true. It was a chaotic scenario that had a lot of speculation which fans to this day never knew the real truth behind. Kurt's addiction to meth was a hot topic that lead to him losing it many times on authors of articles about it, so this film answered a lot of the questions surrounding the time around his daughter's birth. Even though Nirvana is touch on a lot in this film, it reaffirms many times that this documentary is about Kurt and that is it. Because of that, the ending of the documentary stops after reporting he took his own life which again reaffirms that this is only about him. The story of Kurt Cobain is fascinating, and Morgen did a commendable job in expressing just who Kurt was and how he became the man many admired. The twisted doodles, the multiple emotional journal entries, and the vivid expression of his musical prowess made Montage of Heck a very endearing documentary for anyone to enjoy.

The Bad

Example of changed materials.

Example of changed materials.

Everyone who should have been in the film was except for one man: Dave Grohl. His absence was apparent and surprising. Although Grohl was interviewed for the movie, it was not included in the film due to it being after production had ended. This was a mistake and leaves me questioning if he had unpleasant words about Love which resulted in his inclusion being dropped. Grohl and Love have a very rocky relationship, so I can imagine that any negative comments made about her were not focused on. On that note, the documentary did hint at the fact that maybe she was not as terrible as people made her out to be; however, when I watched her parts and the responses she gave, I could not help but feel she was the reason he went off the deep end. She admits to doing drugs while pregnant, nearly cheating on him, and subsequently blaming him for her drop in popularity. All the scenes where Kurt is fighting for people to apologize to her, or say how much they appreciate her, seem like something catered for her own ego. The director states none of the family had any input on how the film was made, but I still feel there were guidelines he was made to follow. Also, it was brought to my attention that a few of his comic strips and art were edited to not be as hateful in the movie. I think censoring this content was another part of those guidelines I just mentioned.  

Conclusion

Montage of Heck, regardless of its flaws, is the best telling of Kurt Cobain's story ever released. It touches on every aspect of the rock icon's life and puts his self deprivation out for everyone to see. This representation of Kurt Cobain answers every question a fan would have about their favorite singer, yet it is interesting enough to be viewed by those who are not fans. If you watch this documentary, you will understand just why he wrote the way he did and acted the way he did. His exposure to fame poured into his will to never let anyone down, and he constantly felt the sting of those who dragged his name through mud. Suicide was always on the back of his mind; no matter how many people adored him. I understand from watching Montage of Heck who Kurt Cobain was, and I wish he would have gave it all up just to get his wish of being in a happy family.

Final Pew Rating 4 out of 5 Pews

All Images Courtesy of cobainfilm.com