Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck tells the story of a musician who, early on in his career, was hailed as the voice of a generation and struggled to cope with such a weighty designation. Utilizing a mixture of homemade movies, animation, archival footage and current day interviews, the film provides a vivid and intimate portrait of Kurt Cobain’s turbulent life.
Director Brett Morgen begins his examination by interviewing Cobain’s parents. They detail how their divorce had a profound impact on Cobain, who was only 9 years old at the time. The first true glimpse into the troubled side of the young artist comes from journal excerpts outlining his first real suicide attempt in high school. Through the use of animation, which the film frequently employs to visualize key events, Morgen is able to recreate a stirring image of Cobain calmly sitting on railway tracks in the dark of night as the lights of an oncoming train approaches.
As one might expect, the film spends a good amount of time chronicling Cobain’s band, Nirvana, as they evolve from humble beginnings to being one of the biggest band in the world. The audience gains insight into his days working odd hours at a cleaning business and playing shows in his spare time. It is fascinating to observe how he came up with the concept for the sound that would be the basis of Nirvana’s Nevermind album. The emotional and physical pains associated with attempting to get a band off the ground – including putting a demo together, dealing with humiliation, enduring severe stomach pains, and finding the right band name – are on display. Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Conner, recalls her son putting his demo into the tape deck for her to hear. After listening to the songs, Ms. O’Conner speaks the truest words in the film when she recalls telling Kurt “you’re not ready for this.”
Cobain’s Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic sheds light on why the band became the voice of disaffected youths within months of the March 1991 release of Nevermind. He also offer insight into Cobain’s slow and steady descent into heroin addiction. A habit that is hit home further when Morgen gets Courtney Love to share her thoughts on her late husband. The home video footage of Cobain and Love in the clutches of addiction is both raw and painful to watch.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck offers a unique and creative way to give an added voice to a person who is no longer with us. Brett Morgen constructs a film that hits on the main stages of Cobain’s life: exuberant youngster, troubled teen, music icon, heroin addict, and father. The documentary is a well-crafted project that will appeal to Nirvana fans, biography enthusiast and surveyors of tortured souls alike. It is a film that I strongly recommend.
Friday, April 24, 9:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, April 25, 1:15 PM, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.