Cobain: Montage of Heck online movie review - Look into certain scenes, rather than trying to look into them all
"Intimate" is the word to use when describing Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, a documentary with uncommonly vivid and detailed accounts of the Nirvana lead singer's life, rise, demise, and untimely death.
In just twenty-seven years, Cobain accomplished more than many aspiring musicians will capture in their entire lives, speaking to a generation of young, impressionable, disaffected souls with his raucous music and his equally loud personality. Montage of Heck defies typical documentary hagiography; it doesn't stoop to the level of blind praise or idolization of its subject. It finds the most intimate and tender moments of Cobain's life and cobbles them together in a project about as manic as the man it's about.
The documentary begins by looking at Cobain's early life, where he was a hyperactive child, who's mother and father couldn't quite handle. His mother talks about having to give him Ritalin at one point to calm him down, as he was constantly moving and exhausting himself, playing instruments, singing, or just being an uncontrollable force of nature. When his parents divorced, Kurt hopped around, staying with his father, his grandparents, and other relatives for no more than two or three weeks because of his erratic behavior. This inconsistent upbringing left him confused and weary at a young age, with his mother describing him as "unruly" following their divorce. He felt that a broken family was bad and shameful enough, and the fact he wasn't accepted by it made him more frustrated.
Kurt's adolescence, defined by criminality, drug use, and wayward attempts to have sex, are captured through beautifully animated sequences, reminiscent of the style Richard Linklater used for his films A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. Kurt narrates the sequence, talking about his failed sexual encounters and his excessive marijuana use, which allowed him to escape looming pressures and the feeling of being unloved by his family. This anarchic approach to live - a "seize the day" approach, if you will - is one of the many biting forces that led to the music of Nirvana being formed.
That's where the linearity of Montage of Heck ceases. After about thirty minutes of talking heads, we get most of the abstract material from director Brett Morgen, who compiles Kurt's notebooks, drawings, archival footage, and audio recordings into one big sensory overload. The result is almost impressionistic, where what you bring to the documentary is as important as what you attempt to learn from it. These visuals are expertly animated and assembled, creating a sort of poetry across a large canvas of material.
While rarely seen interviews with Nirvana make up parts of the documentary, the real heart comes at the end, when we see home video footage of Cobain and Courtney Love, most of the time, strung out on heroin, nicotine, and alcohol. This is all going on even while Love is pregnant with their child, Frances. This is where the intimacy really takes on a new life; before, Morgen was deceptive, making us think we were in for a talking head documentary about the life of Cobain. However, he pulls a one-eighty by showing us Kurt's unpublished journals and musings on life and love (at one point, we see a letter to Courtney Love that has Kurt proclaiming he'd make himself miserable to make her happy and even "abort Christ for her"). Such intimacy is carried out in the most explicit way, through these home videos, which bear romance, incoherent ramblings, or simple interactions between Kurt and the most close-knit family he ever had.
Courtney Love, who is interviewed in the documentary, even opens up about how Kurt was in love with her up until his suicide. She states that all he wanted to do was spend time with her, following his departure from Nirvana, and even told her all he wanted to do was, upon making $3 million, stay in his apartment with her, do heroin, paint, and play guitar. If that's not living life the artistic way, I don't know what is.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is edited quite chaotically, and many will struggle to find a central meaning in the film. Per usual, I think such an act is a waste of time and provides for nothing but a headache. The important thing, as with most films, is to see what you can decipher and interpret from scenes, characters, and overarching ideas, and Montage of Heck is a brilliantly structured study into one of music's most enigmatic minds. We see, in a manner that only compliments Cobain's personality and overall approach to music, a manic detailing of a man's life in a manner that allows art and process to take over quite beautifully here.
Directed by: Brett Morgen.