Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is an incredible piece of filmmaking about an iconic figure that has become wrapped up in mythmaking and iconography. Currently running on HBO, the documentary comes from Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Chicago 10) and is exactly what the tin says. It’s a collection of video, drawings, notes, music and just plain art that the late Nirvana singer concocted over his too brief life. The whole is a rather startling thing which makes the man’s stature larger, even as it turns it almost uncomfortably human.
This is no puff piece labeling how Cobain was the voice a generation, pushed too hard by the media to a breaking point of suicide. Those things are touched upon. So are Cobain’s highs, lows and in-betweens. Few music docs are interested in mentioning its artist’s sexual encounter with a mentally challenged young woman; Montage of Heck goes there. It does so with gusto, flipping between all sorts of techniques to display the inner thoughts of its titular figure and how he was viewed by those around him. When people discuss the bland look of documentaries, with their parade of talking head vignettes and the occasional bit of interstitial stock footage, they don’t mean director Brett Morgen. Rotoscope animations is used, notebook scribbles come to life and the goofiest moments of life are revealed via home video clips.
That last element really comes to the forefront as Morgen’s doc hits its latter stages, where it spends a great deal of time with Cobain and his wife Courtney Love. Over the years, Love has been given the Yoko Ono treatment, as if Cobain would’ve lived a nice long, joyous life if she never came along. Not only does Montage of Heck prove this false, it features footage of the pair just yucking it up on tour, in their apartment and with their daughter.The opposite isn’t shied away from either
The surprise is a fitting one, for truly Morgen gets into the psyche of his subject. Interviews with friends and family detail the man’s evolving insecurities and delicateness. We get into the inner trenches of Cobain, where he openly loathes many, yet seems genuinely distraught over the world’s blatant and continual harassments of all people different from than the norm, be they outsiders, homosexuals or the poor. He’s the type of person who stands in front a gargantuan live crowd and explains that since the press have been negative towards his wife, it would mean a lot if audiences all said “I love you” to his wife.
This is unflinching stuff that makes one’s love for Nirvana and the figure at its forefront all the deeper.