Geek, loner, slacker, roommate, obsessive note-taker (‘rent Eraserhead’) – that’s the Kurt Cobain who emerges from this impressionistic profile, blessed by the late Nirvana frontman’s family and the product of enviable archival access. Notably absent from that list is ‘spokesperson for a generation’, which is a minor miracle.
‘Cobain: Montage of Heck’ doesn’t concern itself with musical legacy or importance. Instead, it nuzzles deeply into intimacy as we watch a happy blond kid strumming a guitar at age four grow despondent in a broken home (the 8mm footage is extraordinary), turn to drugs and black thoughts and still get it together to whip a era-defining rock trio into shape. For a mere 27 years, Cobain’s life was unusually well documented, often by himself.
The tone director Brett Morgen takes is closer to Jonathan Caouette’s 2003 autobiographical diary-doc ‘Tarnation’ than your typical behind-the-music slog, but he’s poorly served by a too-long running time of more than two hours. (Meanwhile, having no interview with drummer Dave Grohl, for whatever reason, is a serious omission.) And composer Jeff Danna almost undoes his director’s non-judgemental instincts by contributing some painfully ironic versions of Nirvana’s hits, either on twinkly bells or sung by a children’s choir.
Regardless, there’s enough fascinating material here – including some cringeworthy Kurt-and-Courtney cavorting in front of camera – to allow viewers to come to their own conclusions. If you’re even remotely a fan, you need to see this.