It's been a week since HBO subscribers got their first look at the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. The two-hour documentary explores the life of legendary Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain from his childhood to his 1994 suicide. The story plays out through a combination of home movies, animation, archival footage, and the artwork and journals of Kurt Cobain.
As compelling as Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is, it's also difficult to watch. The legend of Kurt Cobain -- his sensitivity, his genius -- is stripped away in favor of an intimate portrait of a man who at times seemed determined to be the best at what he does if only to avoid the humiliation of failure. The problem, at least as presented by Montage of Heck director Brett Morgen, is that as much as Cobain was unable to stand humiliation and ridicule, he was even more unprepared for the fame and adoration thrust upon him.
For all that Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck manages to clarify, one thing seems illusive: redemption for Cobain's widow, Courtney Love. The last act of Montage of Heck focuses on the years after Nirvana's mega success and Cobain's relationship with Courtney Love. While Morgen opts for a neutral presentation by juxtaposing interviews with Courtney Love with home videos showing intimate moments between the couple, in the end Love comes out looking like a woman who loved her husband, but was ultimately just as powerless against her addictions as he was.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic describes Love's addiction as "part of the package" that attracted Cobain. Montage of Heck reveals that Cobain was already a heavy heroin user before meeting Love, having taken up the drug to cope with a debilitating chronic stomach condition.
Even that neutral portrait, which includes candid admissions of heroin use early in her pregnancy and contemplations of infidelity, is too kind to some fans, who voiced their disapproval on the documentary's promotional Facebook account.
"So after watching Montage of Heck, I'm even more convinced that Courtney Love had something to do with Kurt Cobain's death."According to Morgen, while Love initially approached him about doing the documentary in 2007, he maintained final cut privileges. In fact, Morgen says that Love didn't see the film until it was completed. Courtney Love's first view of Montage of Heck occurred in Burbank, with daughter Frances Bean Cobain at her side.
"I thought it was in poor form and hypocritical for Courtney to say on camera that all Kurt wanted to do was sit at home and do heroin and play guitar instead of touring. Even if that was true, it's spitting on your dead husband's grave and for what purpose other than to make a $$$ and get some media attention like back in the day. "
Morgen credits Frances Bean Cobain with the eventual tone of Montage of Heck.
"[Frances] looked at me and said, 'You know, I just met you, and I feel like, I think I know you more than I know my father.' And what she meant was, she had no memory of her father. He died when she was 20 months old. And that kind of changed the whole scope and direction of the film, because it was clear at that point that I was not making the film for the fans, and I was not making the film for myself. I was gonna make the film for her. It was an opportunity to make a film that would help bridge a gap between a father and a daughter."HBO will air an encore presentation of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck Sunday, May 10.
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