Back in the 90s I liked Nirvana’s music, though I wasn’t what I would call a big fan. But when lead singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain killed himself, I was shocked and saddened. The story around his personal life and suicide was messy and there was a lot of finger pointing and demonizing of his wife, the infamous Courtney Love. What Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck does really well is paint a picture of Cobain that runs counter to the tabloids and gives you a real glimpse of the tragic artist that he was. So much of it is told through his diaries and his own private tapes that no one, not even Courtney Love, had bothered to look at. It’s a film that will make even those of us who just liked the music respect his artistry on a whole other level.
The film begins as most biographies do with his disfunctional to the extreme childhood. He is so full of ideas and creative energy that his mother can’t take it, and then his father can’t, and then he lives with grandma. He’s a nerd and outcast and attempts suicide, but finds that art and writing are an outlet. And he is prolific. His art is everywhere. And he finally finds his way out of small town USA with his music and becomes famous. But that broken child remains inside him. And just when you’d think he would be content and fulfilled, with a wife and a baby and professional success, he takes his own life. Of course the signs are all there, in retrospect. He’d tried to kill himself just weeks before he succeeded. The film doesn’t totally explain it, though it points to a kind of inevitability.
The interviews with his mother are hard to take. She feigns a love that she never apparently showed him. Courtney Love is a bit more layered. She was demonized after Cobain’s death, but the film shows there was a fun and loving relationship there, though as a fellow junkie she wasn’t up to taking care of her fragile hubby. The beauty of the film though is seeing him through his own eyes, through his diaries and drawings, creatively animated here and extremely telling. He is stripped bare and you come away feeling that you know him, perhaps better than anyone did when he was living. It is a must see for Nirvana fans, but an eye-opening and fascinating flick for those of us who appreciate a good biography with a great soundtrack. You will be humming Nirvana tunes for days.