Cobain: Montage of Heck

Cobain: Montage of Heck ★★★★½

The Rolling Stone quote on the poster claims it's "the most intimate rock doc ever." They're probably right. If I had to describe Cobain: Montage Of Heck in one word, I'd say heartbreaking. This isn't really about the band or Kurt's career, it's about him as a person. A man with a troubled soul that couldn't get out of his own head, who didn't want to be the voice of a generation and ultimately couldn't overcome the demons that had haunted him since childhood.

Director Brett Morgen stitches this together using archive footage, Kurt's drawings and journals, and intimate homemade videos. Perhaps surprisingly, the interviewees like Kurt's parents, bandmate Krist and even Courtney Love are seldomly used. Hell, Dave Grohl isn't even in it. Instead, Morgen allows the footage to tell the story, as well as some eerie recordings of Kurt that often make it feel like he's still alive, simply answering questions asked of him. His drawings and journals entries are animated to help give us a glimpse into his fragile mind, and some of his spoken diary entries are created into mini cartoons when footage of his teenage years and other intimate moments aren't available. These were great touches that used Kurt's own creativity to tell his own story, and took the film above other documentaries that are pretty much all talking heads.

Perhaps the most thoughtful and intimate moments are the ones filmed by Cobain and Love themselves, in their home just goofing around or caring for their daughter Frances. Sometimes funny, sometimes cute, always tender, they paint a picture of a happy couple and a happy family. These are the moments where Kurt's scattered mind is hugely apparent, as it's sad yet confusing when, barely over three months before he'd commit suicide, there's a video of Courtney and Frances in the bath with Kurt filming them, and Courtney exclaims how happy she feels, and Kurt agrees. Smartly, the film doesn't dive into the suicide and the whys, since huge speculating as to the reason Kurt decided to end his life would just be rehashing old debates.

One amazing yet eerie scene I want to point out is this spliced version of Smells Like Teen Spirit, where the famous music video for the song is played, but the actual music over the top is a choir cover of the song. It's hard to get across in words how brilliant yet haunting this scene is, but it put me in a trance for those few minutes. The song suddenly took on a whole new meaning, and the angelic choir almost seemed to imply that this song, the anthem of the 90s and the track that launched Nirvana to megastardom, was in fact the thing that caused Kurt's eventual death. Such a simple scene, but probably my favourite moment of the film.

One small inkblot is the ending. First, it ends very abruptly. I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this. On the one hand I see the point being made that it's ending just like Kurt's life did - suddenly and without (much) warning. On the other, the film seemed to be missing a wrap-up of sorts and there wasn't really a final message presented, though again, that might be cause for praise (plus ending the film with that spectacular rendition of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' was fitting.) The other problem I had was the choice of credits song. This probably sounds a bit picky but it just didn't fit the tone of the ending at all. 'Ain't It A Shame' is a good song but barring the literal statement of the title I can't see why this was picked as a closer. It's just too fast and up-beat. If they wanted a b-side, a better choice would have been either 'Don't Want It All', which eerily predicts the search for Kurt and how he'd eventually be found after his death, or 'Do Re Mi', which was the last recorded song by him, about two weeks before his suicide. Like I said, this probably sounds picky as hell but I felt the poignancy of the ending was slightly hurt by the song choice.

If you're looking for the definitive story of Kurt's life and career, this isn't it. I'd suggest reading Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross if so. But what Montage Of Heck does examine is the true human being Kurt Cobain was, with all his faults and flaws, with his mind and talent that spoke to millions, but that same mind that crippled him to the point of no return. A brilliant doc.

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