REVIEW: Cobain: Montage of Heck | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Director: Brett Morgen
Starring: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Kris Novoselic
Certificate: 15
Run time: 132 min

I have been a Nirvana fan ever since my early adolescence and the morbid story of Kurt Cobain haunted my teenage imagination for years. I still remember sitting in my parents’ living room in the dead of night when everyone else was asleep, fixated on the MTV Unplugged performance, following Cobain’s lethargic, almost exhausted movements and hand gestures. He has always been a figure of another generation for me, clouded in the fog of the 80s and early 90s that I never got to experience. Montage of Heck helped me fill that gap. Its masterful storytelling and sometimes gruesome pictures of reality transported me back to the age of Kurt Cobain and left the teenage grunge fan in me feeling overwhelmed yet content.

Brett Morgen’s documentary is the first ever officially approved biopic of the Nirvana frontman’s life; even Courtney Love, who was, reportedly, the most hated woman in the world after Cobain’s death, agreed to provide their home videos and Cobain’s old journals to the production. The result is mind-blowingly harrowing and personal, combined with small flashes of the humour that Cobain undoubtedly had on his good days. All of that strong visual imagery is complemented with the singer’s personal journals, artwork, even sound collages. The movie tries to peek in the personal universe of Kurt Cobain without exposing him in an exclusively good light.

As it makes use of its unique footage, Montage of Heck combines it with Nirvana’s best classics, the way no one has heard them before. The one that left the strongest impression was definitely the mellow xylophone version of All Apologies, aptly combined with footage of a three-year-old angel-faced boy, excitedly shouting “I’m Kurt Cobain!” into the camera. As the movie progresses, animated sequences present the miserable adolescence of the Nirvana singer, his musical development, his romance with Love, and their controversial life together with their daughter, Frances. Cobain’s creative power bubbles beneath the surface of the film, with the outside involvement next to unnoticeable and his spirit is buzzing, as if he had a part in creating the film himself.

There is a sense of a definitive finale with the end of Montage of Heck. That’s evident in the fact that its producer, Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Kurt, has told the world that her father’s memory has now been honoured in the best possible way and that no one can now go and create anything beyond Montage of Heck.

Many Nirvana fans will probably feel wary about seeing one of the most defining figures of grunge in yet another documentary and feel that it’ll be a failure. That’s perfectly understandable; we’ve seen too many of those go bad to not feel that anxiety. However, Montage of Heck can definitely be named as the definitive textbook of celebrity documentaries. It leaves Kurt’s legacy intact, just as good or as bad as it actually is. It’s a must-see for all Nirvana fans.

Cobain: Montage of Heck is currently showing at Tyneside Cinema.


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