Documentary - Cobain: Montage of Heck

Cobain cover

Steve Taylor-Bryant looks for something new in the documentary Cobain: Montage of Heck...

This is a very hard documentary for me to review, so you'll have to forgive me if I split it into sections but, after watching it, I had to think of it in sections to finally make a decision on whether I liked it or not. I'm going to start with the media hype and the strap lines by reputable sites and publications I actually admire as I think these are what led to my own confusion once the film had finished.

"The definitive film on Cobain" - Heyuguys
"The most intimate rock doc ever" - Rolling Stone

Definitive means 'done or reached decisively and with authority ' whilst intimate means 'private and personal' and, whilst I don't normally disagree with either publication, I am troubled by the lines. Yes there are some personal and private home films used in the make up of the film but not a high enough percentage to define the film and they really don't add to a decisive conclusion. The film is good, don't get me wrong, but good enough and different enough from other documentaries of either Cobain or Rock in general to be so deserving of this level of hype? Not in my opinion. The fact that Francis Bean Cobain was a producer and Courtney Love was heavily involved may, I suppose, lead towards 'definitive' but I learnt nothing new from the film and I'm not sure any fan of Kurt or Nirvana would have learned from it either. That being said the film itself was very good once you get over the pretensions that it's something grander than it was.

The story of Kurt's childhood and early family troubles have been extensively covered ever since Nirvana burst onto the scene and are again explained here via siblings and his parents, who themselves manage to blame each other or Kurt for his troubled mind without ever coming across as even remotely apologetic for the part they played. I understand from my own personal demons that started at a very young age that, as a parent, it is incredibly hard to cope but I don't see how moving a young man from pillar to post whilst blaming each other is even remotely helpful. I get the feeling, especially from Kurt's mum, that basking in his later success whilst trying to come across as not responsible for his ills is too easy. They may sit there thinking the film has shown them in a good light but if you read between the lines you see three grown adults (I'm including the step mother) that perhaps could have done much more to help a young man face his issues and I commend film-maker Brett Morgan for just leaving their commentary as it is allowing the audience to make their own minds up.

Young Cobain

His time from the formation of Nirvana to his eventual death is musically covered with interviews from Krist Novaselic who is always a pleasure to hear speak and you can tell from his emotions and his face how much love he had for Kurt. My only comment on the section about the band is the lack of input from Dave Grohl, but that's the drummer in me being selfish.

Kurt's later life, his brief time as a father and his marriage to Courtney Love seem engineered by the Courtney Love PR machine and even whilst she speaks it seems to become about her rather than Kurt which disappoints in an authorised documentary supposedly the 'definitive' story of Kurt. I've never had a lot of time for Courtney Love. I'm not one of those rabid fans that blames her for the death of Kurt although, like everyone else, I believe she has some guilt and could have done more. Instead, I have just always found her to be very self-centred, so wrapped up in herself that she did not notice the warning signs or the extent Kurt's problems and, sadly, this film does nothing to dispel that.

Where the film does become a different force to usual Nirvana or Kurt films is in the use of Kurt's diary, notes, and artwork, his sketches being brought to life as cartoons whilst an orchestral or choral version of a Nirvana song plays in background is astonishingly good. Something as simple as Kurt budgeting rent with the cost of high hat cymbals is brought to life with fantastic use of effects.

I never bought into the title of 'voice of a disaffected generation' and it's well known Kurt wasn't comfortable with the moniker, however he spoke directly to me through his music. I learnt from interviews and books some of demons he faced and I to was facing similar so to have someone so supremely talented going through what I was experiencing was a great comfort to me. I have always held Cobain up there with Lennon and I know many friends who dread that conversation with me, but lyrically both stars gave me a way to change my mood and had the biggest impact (along with Billy Joel) on my musical upbringing. Did I learn anything new from this film? No. Was it a defining piece of documentary filmmaking? No. Did it serve as a reminder of my youth and my admiration for a man much missed? Yes. It didn't get anywhere near the levels of the hype or comments from some sections of the media but it was an enjoyable watch with clever animation.

Images - Amazon