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Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – Review


Release Date: 9th April 2015
Director: Brett Morgen
Writer: Brett Morgen
Cast: Kurt Cobain - Courtney Love - Krist Novoselic



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Posted April 30, 2015 by

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Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck Review:

I rarely get actually “excited” as I’m going to a screening these days. Don’t get me wrong, the enjoyment is always enormous, but I haven’t had butterflies in my stomach going to see a film – a documentary at that – in a long time. Though making waves in the film community, Montage of Heck is getting relatively little attention outside of it. Which is ironic really, seeing as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love are without doubt one of THE most documented couples of the 20th Century .In fact you may well think there is very little left to say about the life and times of this truly extraordinary musician…

During his lifetime, Kurt was more and more reticent when it came to talking to the press as his fame grew. And speaking of offering him the microphone after his death seems, at first like a slightly perverse joke. And yet… And yet this is almost precisely what director Brett Morgen has done. Or the closest he could come to doing that, short of resorting to an Ouija board. Using Kurt’s own drawings, montages, diary entries and recordings (and I don’t just mean studio recordings), Montage of Heck (the name Kurt himself gave to one of his video montages) is a very, very powerful look in to the artists’ inner world. This sometimes obscure and almost always dark voyage is bolstered by in depth interviews with other band members, Kurt’s family and his wife along with home video footage of Kurt’s childhood and the videos made by Kurt himself, later on with his wife Courtney Love and their daughter Frances…

Stylistically, the documentary is a true montage. Types of footage, types of narrative and types of storytelling switch effortlessly and to great effect, focusing less on “being pretty” and more on telling the story. My particular favourite – as with a lot of critics – was the animated sequences that were used to give life to excerpts from Kurt Cobain’s diary. The other big players in the story are of course the montages made by Kurt himself and the music of Nirvana. This is the only thing that risks “alienating” audiences that are not initiated into the Nirvana phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, you may well watch it find you adored it all along but if you do not enjoy the artwork, it means you are going to dislike over half of the “thing” you are watching. Because a traditional talking heads, sensible look into the life of a musician this film is most definitely not… Then again, if you get past your own prejudices on the matter and look more closely, you will find that, as Kurt repeatedly told the press in very bored tones, that it was all in the music. The art is deeply emotional and pulls no punches or sugars no pills when it tells you exactly how “it” feels. This is what really makes it hard – and in a strange sense, easy to sympathise with.

The second most striking part of the documentary is without a doubt the home videos. The range is broad, ranging from the typical first Christmas and birthday tapes of a little blonde, blue eyed, bouncy little boy to the edgy and (depending largely on your approach to them) hilarious / hard to watch home videos Kurt and Courtney made during their all too short marriage. Much is done to show Kurt’s seemingly never-ending energy and the videos almost always seem to be positive and upbeat (if extremely edgy). However, when we look closely, when we read between the lines, when we make not of the fraying edges, you have an inkling of what was coming. I can quite sympathise in the lament of Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic when he says “I should have seen. I should have said something.” But at the same time it is also very easy to see why he – and in fact everyone – would have missed it.

It is absolutely wonderful to see the great positive reaction Montage of Heck is drawing out of the critics… One of the reasons for this of course, is the way the film openly and unashamedly lays emotions bare, it does not pull its punches on any counts and allowing the viewer to sympathise completely with the difficult life and extraordinary inner world of an extraordinary artist. And through this of course, we are able to see that though we may have seen Nirvana as a band of “greasy haired youths” – actually, what they said, what they stood for and what they felt was not as alien as we may have initially thought…

On a personal level I could describe what I saw on the screen ad infinitum and still not do justice to the emotions it stirred in me.  I am a child of the ‘90s. I grew up actually watching those guys on MTV (Yes. It’s official. I’m old.) If you have any interest or love for Nirvana’s music you HAVE to see this. The nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks, not least because the cinema I watched in was full of what looked suspiciously like the new generation Nirvana fans. Doc Martens boots, long, unkept (or probably meticulously kept so it looks like that) hair, ripped jeans… One thing I can absolutely guarantee to you is that the spirit of punk rock is still alive. I reckon Kurt would be quite chuffed…


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Sedef Hekimgil
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