If this documentary proves one thing, it is that everything worth saying about the musician Kurt Cobain has already been said.
This is a sad fate for the film that Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean intended as a means of emphasising the man rather than the myth that has grown since his suicide, especially when it is still the best film on the Nirvana songwriter ever created.
For the unacquainted, Montage of Heck‘s chief draw is that its creator Brett Morgen was given unprecedented access to the Cobain archive, including music demos and audio recordings of the musician talking about his life, as well as copious amounts of home video footage.
The first half of the film draws heavily on Cobain’s own view on his beginnings, and if little new is revealed about his difficult relationship with his family and alienated youth, hearing it in his own voice is pleasing and the accompanying animation is well done.
This quality is bolstered by interviews with the supporting cast, including his parents, step-mother, sister, wife Courtney Love and bandmate Krist Novoselic. (Drummer Dave Grohl’s contribution came too late in the editing process and Morgen decided not to include it, according to Rolling Stone.)
Sadly the last hour of the film is a more chequered experience. As the Facebook generation will be only too aware, home movies tend to be dreary affairs even for the subjects. The snippets of Cobain and Love’s marriage conform to this trend, though the sheer volume of the material makes one wonder if darker clips are not kicking around the archive.
The decision to end the film abruptly after Nirvana’s funereal Unplugged performance – the screen goes black with a caption announcing his death – is on the other hand tasteful and apt, relieving the audience of another half hour of comment around his demise.
Newcomers to Cobain should consider Montage of Heck an obligatory stop, with the film outranking earlier rivals by some margin. But old fans will not find anything new here. After two hours Cobain still comes across as damaged and compelling as ever, and his suicide seems no less inevitable.
Header Image – Kurt Cobain by Thomas Mikael