Monday, 18 May 2015

Cobain: Montage of Heck

I feel like I need to preface this review by saying that I'm not a huge Nirvana fan. That doesn't mean I don't like them though. “Smells like teen spirit” is a pretty awesome song, as is “Come as you are” and “Heart shaped box”. But beyond enjoying a few of their songs, I just don't put them up on the pedestal that a lot of people tend to do. I knew a bit about Kurt Cobain, but most of that surrounded his death. This latest documentary on Nirvana's leading man pulls the focus back from his death, and instead chronicles his life, upbringing and relationships. It's mostly a good documentary, but ultimately fails to be anything special.

Directed by Brett Morgan and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Cobain: Montage of Heck, a trip into the fragile and troubled mind of Kurt Cobain. There have been a good few documentaries about Cobain over the years, but this is the first one in which both Courtney Love and the Cobain family have all taken part. While previous documentaries mainly focused on his downfall and suicide, Montage of Heck is about how he lived. With the Cobain family involved, director Brett Morgan is clearly trying to create the most personal Kurt Cobain documentary to date. He achieves this, but it's not without its problems.

First off the good. Not knowing too much about Cobain going into this, I feel like I know the man intimately now. Montage of Heck goes back to before he was born, and explores the relationship the mother and father had, where they lived and, of course, the eventual birth of Kurt himself. He was a happy child, and seeing his mother speak about how everyone was drawn to him is genuinely heartbreaking, considering she would have to bury him around 25 years later. His parents' divorce really shook him up though, and from there he used it as a jumping off point to being a troubled kid. From being essentially rejected by both of his parents, Montage of Heck paints Cobain as an painfully troubled and ostracised individual, clearly in need of attention, care and some kind of treatment. This early stage of the documentary is fantastic, and through speaking to his mother, sister and former girlfriend, it's great to see an insight into the almost mythical character that is Kurt Cobain, as he's someone that, like everyone else, had troubles, worries and problems. It makes the man relatable, even if you can't directly relate with his deeply saddening past. The same kind of care and personal attention continues when the documentary explores the creation of Nirvana, their origins as a largely unknown band, their increasing popularity, the release of their monumental hit album Nevermind, and how this sudden rise to stardom affected Cobain negatively. When it's good Montage of Heck is interesting and moving, but when it's bad it's self indulgent and boring.

The documentary has problems, namely with how it deals with everything in the last 40 minutes or so. With everything that has been said about the turbulent relationship of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck certainly focuses on it eventually, but never quite delves into it as deeply as you'd like to imagine. It covers all of this through interviewing Love herself, which is all well and good, but it all comes across a little tame with her almost tailored answers to questions seeming like a far cry from how the documentary started. Sure it goes into his drug abuse and the birth of his daughter, but despite these interesting developments in his life, it's not as personal or as intriguing as it handled his early life. Another aspect I didn't like was how self indulgent Montage of Heck could be. Throughout the documentary there are superb scenes in which we're shown fully animated segments of Cobain's life, played to the backdrop of the man himself reflecting on his past. However, we're also given super stylised scenes of his journals, writings and musings. Montage of Heck goes out of its way to ram these writings down our throats, and make them fully animated moments that take the personal introspective writings of Cobain and turns them into edgy ramblings. The accompanying animations are just cringey, as the documentary puts way too much time, focus and emphasis on how nicely animated they are.

Montage of Heck doesn't make much mention of Cobain's death, and though that in itself could make a whole new documentary (see Kurt and Courtney or Soaked in Bleach), I appreciated the focus on his life. I'm still not a major fan of Nirvana, but what's clear to me after watching this is that Kurt Cobain was an incredibly troubled and sensitive guy. A lethal combination of fame and drugs ultimately brought him to a very dark place, and it's always heartbreaking to see someone who doesn't think they have any other way out other than suicide. It's not a perfect documentary, but fans and non-fans of Nirvana alike will find it watchable. 

Cobain: Montage of Heck smells like a 3/5.


Denis Murphy

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