Nirvana frontman and troubled soul Kurt Cobain is the center of the new HBO Documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. With access to notes, scribbles, drawings and uncensored private home movie footage, director Brett Morgen gives us a glimpse of the man behind the stage performer that rose to fame and then tragically took his own life at age 27.
The film naturally starts at Cobain’s beginnings with home movies of the young blonde, blue-eyed baby doing cute blonde, blue-eyed baby things. His parents are interviewed and we learn about Cobain’s broken home and how he was passed between families and relatives in his upbringing. Cobain was a bit of an outsider. An outcast. He wasn’t generally accepted at High School and this was only further complicated when Cobain had his first sexual experience with a local mentally challenged girl. In Cobain’s own words, the experience was terrible. He didn’t like the smell of her vagina and sweat and he left before losing his virginity. Unfortunately, word around school spread of Cobain’s actions and soon he was being taunted as a ‘retard fucker’ by his peers.
Thinking the world could not get crueler, Cobain tried for the first time to take his own life. He grabbed blocks of concrete and lay on the train tracks awaiting the nightly train. The train switched tracks however, and Cobain was spared. With a new lease on life, Cobain turned to music and, as they say, the rest was history.
The documentary follows Cobain through the making of Nirvana’s first album through his in the round performance on MTV Unplugged. Cobain wrote and scribbled thousands of thoughts that Brett Morgan had unlimited access to. The ramblings reveal a young soul who seemed to always be in a mist. To always feel misunderstood and someone who shunned the life of fame.
It was early in Cobain’s life when he tried heroin for the first time and this action would be his downfall. His crutch. It is presented that Cobain first used heroin to help with intestinal pain he had all his life. But it’s clear that this excuse was just a way of reconciling his actions in his own head. Cobain became a junkie. A well-documented junkie in tabloids and rock magazines that chronicled the rise of Nirvana.
Then Cobain met Courtney Love. The lead singer of a California band name Hole, Courtney too had drug issues. She is interviewed for the documentary and pulls no punches. She describes in detail Kurt’s dependency and talks herself about doing heroin while pregnant with their daughter. Courtney does come across as a little less of an evil entity as many of Cobain’s fans have crowned her. Evil or not, Kurt loved Courtney. And when he suspected Courtney of infidelity, he attempted to kill himself a second time with a drug overdose that landed him in a coma.
Watching home video of Courtney and Kurt closer towards the end of Kurt’s life was like watching Jeff Goldblum transform in The Fly. Kurt’s face is riddled with sores and acne. As is his back. He is thin and looks in a daze. Even at his daughter’s first birthday party, you can tell that Kurt is more interested in getting his next fix than he is in reveling in the moment.
The documentary is 145-minutes and celebrates Cobain’s life. It does not make judgements nor does it attempt to vindicate the irrational actions of the centerpiece. Director Brett Morgen doesn’t focus on the tragic loss of Cobain due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. In fact, it is only on the final reel’s title card before the credits that Cobain’s death is even referenced. Most are aware of what happened on April 5, 1994 and Morgen was not looking to sensationalize those tragic events. Instead, we see a life. A confused, drug addicted life that never met its full potential. Sad really.