Director: Brett Morgen
Cast: Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic ,Dave Grohl and Courtney Love
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: April 10th
There’s a now permanent exhibit about Nirvana in Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum. Nirvana’s bass player, Krist Novoselic, donated endless boxes of his own personal collection which document their beginnings in Aberdeen, Washington to top of the Billboard charts. There are old gig posters, demos, photos from the tour bus and even a ‘Moonman’, the accolade at the MTV Music Awards. And then there’s Kurt’s iconic red and black sweater. It’s weird experience standing in front of it, particularly given his disposition for fame and any accepted state as an icon or voice of his generation. There’s no doubt he’d have found the idea of paying to see a dead man’s jumper ridiculous.
There’s an element of that to Cobain: Montage of Heck, Brett Morgen’s documentary that gives you unfettered and, at times, voyeuristic look at Kurt, Nirvana and Courtney Love. It’s the first time a doc has been made with the co-operation of his family and its access to his demos, journals and home videos — along with the fact it begins and ends with his birth and death — gives it an air of the definitive.
As a child Cobain is regular as they come, if a little hyperactive. He’s soon drawn to music and drawing — of which he was incredibly prolific — and his tireless work ethic shines through. So too does his darker side, he draws pictures of his favourite TV characters but there’s malice and malignancy to them: Pluto hangs from marionette strings; Snoopy is leashed by a red-faced, scowling Charlie Brown and Fred Flintstone slumps with sunken shoulders. His art gets more morbid as he enters his teen years and struggles to fit to in to school life, hanging out with ‘scumbags’ because they were the only ones with weed. Swaths of his diary are animated excellently by Hisko Hulsing and Stefan Nadelman, including a harrowing and bleak account of his first sexual experience.
Morgen previously directed 17th June 1994, an ESPN documentary about the titular day when OJ Simpson led a highway chase in his Bronco during the ’94 World Cup opening ceremony, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Arnold Palmer’s final round at the U.S. Open and the New York Rangers led a Stanley Cup winning parade through New York. It was notable for its lack of talking heads or voiceover, with Morgen instead just letting the footage speak for itself. There’s a lot of that going on here too. He keeps interviews at an absolute minimum — Kurt’s mother, father, sister and first girlfriend, Novoselic and Love — and lets home videos run out, letting you make the assumptions rather than leading you there. They’re incredibly intimate yet hold a nightmarish quality, particularly as Kurt and a pregnant Courtney wallow in their heroin addictions. You fear for Francis Bean before she’s born but are then surprised by how competent and loving they are once she’s there.
Your enjoyment will certainly wager on your interest in Nirvana — you can can take or add a star as appropriate — but it is a fascinating insight. Its 132 minute running time is just 8 minutes shy of being as long as Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero combined and suggests a filmmaker unable to trim out of idolisation for his subject, but every brief lull is just a ‘Territorial Pissings’ or ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ from being shocked back into life. It’s messy, dissonant, ernest and imperfect; aptly fitting really.