Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Written, co-edited, and directed by Brett Morgen, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is a documentary about the life and death of the Nirvana vocalist/guitarist who struggled with fame that led to his suicide at the age of 27 in April 5, 1994. Through various archival and rare footage provided by Cobain’s family as well as several animated sequences by Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing. The film plays into Cobain’s life and career as he was considered the voice of a generation during a turbulent period in the early 1990s. The result is a fascinating yet haunting film from Brett Morgen.

In the early 1990s, a little band that blended punk rock aesthetics, heavy metal rage, and pop sensibility known as Nirvana went from being this obscure band from Aberdeen, Washington to becoming the biggest band in the world in the span of a few years. Its leader in Kurt Cobain became an unlikely spokesman for a generation of disaffected and angry youth who had enough of 1980s Republican propaganda and big-haired rockers wearing spandex. Yet, Cobain would have trouble adjusting to his new fame as his addiction to heroin to cope with a stomach ailment and other things eventually led to his suicide at the age of 27. The film isn’t about his death but rather his entire life up until his suicide attempt in March of 1994 in Rome, Italy while on tour.

Featuring new interviews from Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, Cobain’s parents Don Cobain and Wendy O’Connor, Cobain’s sister Kim, Cobain’s stepmother, and a few that also knew him. The film doesn’t just explore the life of a young man whose idyllic childhood was destroyed upon his parents’ divorce at the age of 9 as his life would become very tumultuous as Cobain’s parents and stepmother revealed how bad things were as he was forced to live from one relative’s home to another before eventually settling to live with his mother. Since he was also a social outcast by the time he was a teenager, it was through punk rock where he found salvation as he would form a band with high school friend Krist Novoselic that would eventually become Nirvana.

Through some re-created animated sequences by Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing based on Cobain’s own drawings and notes from his own notebook, the film not only plays into the evolution of Cobain as an artist but how his art would express the rage and despair that would loom all over him. Even as they would use some archived audio to recreate stories about Cobain’s life such as the time he would hand out with stoners and do things with a mute fat girl. The animation plays into not just some of the music Cobain did with Nirvana but also into how complicated his life was even when he did become successful. With the aid of editor Joe Beshenkovsky and sound designer Cameron Frankley, Brett Morgen captures the intensity of Nirvana’s sudden success from being this little band playing in small clubs in Washington and in houses where only a few people show up to suddenly playing stadiums in Brazil.

One notable moment in the film that is really striking about how bad Cobain was to adjust from this sudden change is an interview with her mother where she talked about the day she first heard the band’s 1991 breakthrough album Nevermind. She would tell her son that this album will change his life and he’s not going to be ready for this change as her premonition wasn’t just spot-on but also terrifying. There’s also a moment where Courtney Love talks about their relationship as she revealed why Cobain tried to kill himself in Rome in March of 1994 for something she thought about doing. She also revealed what happened in 1992 when Nirvana took a break on tour as it is revealed through rare home movies as it reveals exactly what the two were doing at that time. On the one hand, it shows a couple just absolutely in love and having fun but it’s also scary considering that the two were junkies at a time when Love didn’t know she was pregnant with their daughter Frances Bean.

With the aid of cinematographers Jim Whitaker and Nicole Hirsch Whitaker, many of the new interviews are presented in a straightforward manner while Morgen and Beshenkovsky would create edits to explain some of the things that were happening as some of the editing is shown in montages to play into the band‘s sudden rise. Music supervisor Howard Paar would provide some contributions from the Everly Brothers, the Brady Bunch Kids, The Jury (a super group featuring members of Nirvana and Screaming Trees), and variations of Nirvana songs by other people into the mix as much of the music is from the band and some audio montages and rare recordings from Cobain including a cover of the Beatles’ And I Love Her.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is an incredible film from Brett Morgen. It’s a film that doesn’t just reveal what kind of person Kurt Cobain was but also why he didn’t live very long. It’s a film that is quite adventurous but also very scary considering how flawed of a person Cobain was. Especially as he was put into a pedestal that only made things worse as all he ever wanted was something normal. In the end, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is a phenomenal film from Brett Morgen.

Related: (The Kid Stays in the Picture) - Crossfire Hurricane

© thevoid99 2015


Alex Withrow said...

Great review. Love that you called the film adventurous and scary. So true. Just like the man himself.

thevoid99 said...

I'm a Nirvana fan so it was obvious I was going to like this. Yet, there were parts that were quite uncomfortable to watch such as seeing Kurt high on drugs around his daughter. That was terrifying but also sad knowing what he was going to do in the final months of his life.

Anonymous said...

I was pretty uneducated on Nirvana, and I absolutely loved this doc. It was, at times, a little too revealing into Kurt's thevoid mentioned above...but, overall, it was a great piece. Nice review!

thevoid99 said... For me, I would just watch 1991: The Year Punk Broke which is mainly a documentary film about Sonic Youth's European tour in 1991 where Nirvana was one of the opening acts. It is a great doc to show how big the band was becoming at that time. Also get the concert videos as they were awesome live. I'm sad that I never got the chance to see them live when I was around. I was only 10 years old when Nevermind came out.

Ruth said...

I'm not really a huge fan of Nirvana, though their influence (esp Cobain's) is undeniable. I'm curious about this doc though, sounds fascinating.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-It's not really a documentary about Nirvana but more about Cobain himself though it is not easy to watch due to some of the moments in the film that are very uncomfortable to watch.