Kurt Cobain was depressed? No. Not this guy.
In case you’ve never heard of the name before, Kurt Cobain was a guy who played music. Really, really loud music, that is. In a band called Nirvana, too. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Other than that though, there was a whole lot more to Kurt Cobain that was less about the music he played and the legions of fans it inspired, and more about what was really going on inside his actual head, even throughout all of his life. From his early days as a young kid growing up in 70’s Seattle, without any stable home, to his high school days where he was made a mockery for slacking off and not really fitting fully in. Then, of course, we track the time from when he first started out in Nirvana with his best buddy Krist Novoselic, to when he first met his long-time girlfriend, soon-to-be-wife, Courtney Love. And lastly, after the birth of his daughter, Kurt’s life all came to an end.
That is, once again, if you haven’t heard about any of this so far. If you haven’t, I’d say get out right from underneath that rock as soon as you can, because seriously, you should know more.
Anyway, rockumentaries are mostly a dime-a-dozen nowadays. For one, they hardly ever seem to get down to the solid matter of a band/artist, or better yet, the artist/band called into question isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Sometimes, you’re much better off just checking out a Wikipedia page, taking it all with a grain of salt, but also still realizing that it may help you get a clearer picture of whomever the documentary’s actually about and not feel as if your time was wasted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the rockumentary doesn’t work (A Band Called Death is one of the best, most recent examples that come to mind), it’s just that they so rarely capture an audience’s attention, that isn’t done in the same way on an episode of Behind the Music.
And with that said, there hasn’t really been a good Kurt Cobain documentary made. A part of me knows that there’s reason for that (Courtney Love is definitely afraid of certain things that we already assume about her and Kurt’s relationship, leaking out), but another part of me feels like Cobain’s mind was so challenging, screwed-up, and frustrating, that it’s nearly impossible to make a full-fledged, wholly informative documentary about him, his life, and his everyday thoughts and ideas, without still not getting to the core of what may have been bugging this guy all along. A Nirvana biopic is easy enough, but a Kurt Cobain that goes deep into the heart, mind, and soul of who he was when he was alive, is truly something difficult.
And while I don’t know if Brett Morgen fully captures it all, he comes pretty damn close; which is definitely better than not doing so at all.
Because Morgen was given, by both Frances Bean and Love, privilege to all sorts of Cobain’s personal belongings like diaries, home videos, audio recordings, etc., he’s able to wave his way through Cobain’s mind. However, what may seem like a simple task from just reading a few words/pictures on a piece of paper, Morgen had to probably realize right away that Cobain’s mind, whether you love it or hate it, was surely something that deserved to be examined. All of his personal feelings, doubts, angers, pleasures, experiences, etc. are shown to us and they all paint a very depressing, almost disturbing portrait of a person who really didn’t have a firm grip on his own life. While some people may feel as if Morgen is sort of holding the glass up to Cobain and pointing a finger at him, there’s a good portion of the movie that’s literally featuring Cobain saying everything we’re already supposed to feel/think about him; it’s not even like Morgen’s trying to make up stuff for the fun of it, either.
By going as far as he could into seeing everything that Kurt saw, Morgen definitely deserves some credit. There’s a lot of showwy moments that feels like Morgen’s trying to overcompensate for the fact that most of his movie is just scribbles on a piece of paper and rare video footage, but they only help us get another glimpse into what could have definitely been going on in Kurt’s mind in the first place. This movie wasn’t made to talk about Nirvana, or even point a middle-finger directly at Courtney Love – it’s literally Kurt’s time to shine where, hopefully, his whole story can be aired out to anybody who is still interested in hearing it and, most of all, making sense of it.
Because surely, neither are an easy task to do, let alone, complete.
Where Montage of Heck, like most other documentaries already made about Cobain, seems to frustrate me, is that when Kurt kills himself, the movie’s over. There’s nothing more. We get a small epilogue that already, literally, spells everything out that most of us know beforehand and then the end credits roll-up. While I do see this as an effective piece of editing from Morgen’s side of the boat, seeing as how he wasn’t trying to make this some sort of fluff-piece about how great and legendary Cobain was, I still felt like there was something more missing. Especially given the fact that Morgen, from what it seems, had a lot more that he wanted to use, yet, was hiding away for some odd reason.
For instance, while the movie doesn’t heavily rely on interviews, there’s still plenty of them to be seen here and, believe it or not, offer much insight into Kurt’s life. Both of his parents show up to discuss his up-bringing in a way that’s both interesting, as well as odd, but then a few other interviews, like an ex-girlfriend, or even Krist Novoselic, don’t seem to do much. The ex-girlfriend just rambled on about how great of a girlfriend she was, and Novoselic just sort of chats about him and Kurt being in the band – insights that I’ve heard him share many of times before. Of course Courtney Love comes to air her words, but honestly, I won’t bother diving into what she says, or better yet, was even trying to say in the first place.
Either way, Morgen had the opportunity to unleash more about Cobain’s life that, for some odd reason, I feel like he was holding out on. When the movie ended, it didn’t feel like it; oddly enough, there felt like there was more to it than just Kurt dying and that being it. Maybe there’s a point to be made in that – even though a person is dead, are they ever really gone? They may not be around in the physical form, but they are still in the hearts and minds of each and every person whom they’ve affected, and Kurt Cobain, believe it or not, was like any other human being. Sure, he may have been messed-up in the head, played guitar really well, been famous, influenced a plethora of adoring fans, and spent a good part of his life in the spotlight, but, like you or I, he touched people and made them think about him, even way after he was gone.
It’s still frustrating, but hey, maybe that’s the point.
Consensus: With plenty of material to dig into, Brett Morgen does justice to Kurt Cobain’s life and story in Montage of Heck, yet, at the same time, still gives off the feeling that there’s still more, believe it or not, to be developed about this interesting figure.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire