For fans, this is as good as it gets. ‘Montage of Heck’ provides a much too intense picture of Kurt’s soaring creativity and ultimate helplessness. ★★★★★
Brett Morgen’s newly-released documentary titled ‘Montage of Heck’ examines the life of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, offering a tangible, pertinent window into a son, musician, father, husband and a ‘rock God’ who was unbearably human. Through interviews with his nearest and dearest, Morgen gives us access to the charm and despair of an iconic figure who was constantly straddling his dreams against his fears.
The documentary begins with home footage of his childhood, a beautiful glimpse into the young Kurt’s world. Morgen goes on to implement fantastic graphics and animations rendering the pained Kurt’s days of rejection from his family, reflecting on his days of songwriting, recording mixtapes and playing guitar while attempting to push Nirvana forward. There is a constant focus on Kurt’s sensitivity, his softness, along with the dread and rage he experienced when feeling shame or humiliation, a burden he potentially carried up till the point of his death.
Nirvana’s success is given exposure, but the focus is on Kurt and his experience of both growing and derailing alongside it. A particularly crucial moment shows his mother, Wendy, informing Morgen that she told Kurt to “buckle up”, and indeed, Morgen makes a point of returning back to Nirvana’s 1992 Reading Festival set and the video of a crowd stretching back as far as the eye can see, a crowd that appear more like worshippers, hanging on to Kurt’s every words, clambering on top of one another to catch a glimpse of him and laughing and applauding his antics on stage. Nirvana’s popularity was stratospheric as they transformed from playing in murky room with an audience of two to subsequently performing for audiences worldwide. The documentary is a surprising work of art that uses often disturbing visuals that attempt to decipher and depict Kurt’s mindset, and all the while an unsettling question hangs over us: did Kurt’s most glorious invention, Nirvana, become his worst nightmare?
As the band’s success grows we follow Kurt’s detachment from the media as he begrudgingly advertised TV channels and appeared frequently disinterested – he sighs, yawns and even feigns sleeping in front of a journalist. Kurt’s voice-over later reveals “sometimes I feel like they (the media) want me to die”, and his intimate journal entries reflect a fragile and increasingly fragmented individual. Inherent in almost everything is a scathing critique of the vicious, bestial media and its intrusion into the most personal and intimate spaces of his overexposed public life. However, the inclusion of home videos shows the blissful family life of Kurt, wife Courtney Love and newborn baby Frances Bean, and these are the moments in which Kurt appears happiest. Courtney, who has received much hatred and is the centre of conspiracy theories surrounding Kurt’s death, is funny, wild and much too obviously in love with Kurt. It is a more intriguing portrayal of their relationship and of the woman many believe had a huge hand in propelling his tragic end.
Morgen also focuses on the drug use that plagued Kurt, showing the struggle of realising that heroin had become deeply ingrained into his life. There is carefully selected footage which focuses on Kurt’s face, showing his often piercingly dazed, tired eyes and a face that masked a lot more conflict than it was willing to express. The documentary carefully proceeds to strip this mask away to reveal a megastar who became the voice of a “disaffected youth” without quite asking for it, who was fetishized, and repelled it to such a huge extent that he could not escape it. While he got what he wanted – the success of Nirvana – Kurt is shown to have wanted only the feeling of playing live, the comforts associated with success and most importantly, a normal life. It is almost a sigh of relief after such a whirlwind that the documentary ends abruptly and decides against dwelling too much over Kurt’s painful death.