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Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Directing: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

For a documentary to be great, it needs to transcend the appeal of its subject that already exists outside the film. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, while certainly absorbing and illuminating, doesn't quite make it there. In other words, it might very well come across as the final, definitive word on Kurt Cobain for Nirvana fans. But people with merely a passing interest in the band, and Cobain himself, need not rush out to theatres to see this. Given that it was produced by HBO Documentaries, you won't be missing out if you just wait until you'll be able to watch it on TV sooner than later.

It's been 21 years since Kurt Cobain committed suicide -- long enough that his daughter, 22-year-old Frances Bean Cobain, serves as one of the executive producers (out of five) on this film. This amount of time certainly puts a unique focus on the events of the early to mid-nineties, when Nirvana's crazy-rapid success made it impossible for the band's members to have any real perspective on what was going on. Writer-director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) doesn't particularly sharpen that focus now -- he takes the whole "montage" thing rather literally -- but he does provide a broad picture of Cobain heretofore never seen.

It's very scattered, complete with random animations of Kurt's drawings and even his journal entries, but somehow, it works -- but for one rather significant thing: present-day Dave Grohl is nowhere to be found. Morgen gets interviews with Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, but Rolling Stone reports that Grohl had been too busy to participate until Morgen decided he was satisfied with the cut of the film without him. Okay, but what about the rest of us? His absence makes for a strangely unsatisfied, or at least unfinished, feeling. Morgan reportedly said he may yet edit footage of Grohl into the film, in which case, why the hell are they releasing a film that is by definition not yet finished?

Grohl's absence may be strange, but the rest of what makes it into the film is often truly fascinating -- even for those of us who were not particularly paying attention to Nirvana back in the day. Novoselic's interview clips are not particularly insightful, which further underscores how much more insightful Grohl's likely would have been, considering his perspective as the only person close to Cobain who enjoyed real success after Nirvana ended, and has also been involved in other documentary film making himself. But the few present-day clips of Morgen's interview with Courtey Love speak volumes, both to her past with Kurt and where she's come with Frances Bean since.

There's a lot to look back on, in terms of Nirvana's massive success and worldwide fame, and their immediate resentment of it. Cobain is presented here as a man who desired success but not fame, and it's easy to believe it. A lot of the film's run time is given to home videos of him and Courtney hanging around their house and playing with their baby, on their bed, in the tub. There's a conspicuous lot of Courtney's bare breasts. But there's also something about these clips that is just as heartbreaking as it is sweet. Everyone knows the tragedy here, but this film, named after one of Kurt's mix tapes, drives home the loss of what could have been.

Not that they come across as innocent. Much is made of the courts' intrusion after a Vanity Fair interview implicates Courtney of using drugs while pregnant -- something present-day Courtney freely admits to, but stresses that it was at the beginning of the pregnancy and then she stopped until she had the baby. "I'm built like an oxen," she says, in her confidence that there was never any danger to Frances. Clearly Kurt Cobain's penchant for self-destruction did not exist in isolation.

I'm not sure Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck makes it any easier to understand who the man was or why he did the things he did. But it does tell his story with intimate, albeit scattered, detail. It will delight his fans. For the rest of us, it's just another pretty good documentary.

Kurt Cobain and a kitty show a fleeting moment of happiness in KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK.

Overall: B
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