There were 4 of us setting in the HBO theater waiting for the screener to come up when our HBO host declared it was going to be loud: Because the director wanted the audience to experience the movie at full volume. His disclaimer was funny, him not being initiated in the lifestyle, with his qualification regarding the sound level was more or less a far gone conclusion given the subject matter and the audience it was appealing to. It’s my opinion that movie critics this feature would have attracted would be prepared for a full on assault from a band that made Punk mainstream. Montage of Heck is an upfront chronology of frontman and anti-hero Kurt Cobain’s life of the most intimate kind.
Montage Of Heck has a particular way humanizing Kurt Cobain that drives him from the pantheon of gods and demigods in our collective mind of Rock N’ Roll martyrs and saints that makes him part of us, rather than part of them. Brett Morgen’s takes familial and intimate course in Montage Of Heck. The film consists of are early family movies of Kurt, family and friend interviews, selected audio tapes, in combination with Kurt’s note and illustrations that illuminate Kurt’s life in this documentary.
There’s plenty of Nirvana‘s music in the film and there’s a Beatles cover of “And I Love Her” by Kurt. The direction the film was keenly focused on Kurt’s life. The movie delves deeply into Kurt’s childhood and his youth that sets the foundation for what is to come. I can’t help think the direction was very collaborative between Brett Morgen and Frances Bean, who’s an executive producer on the film, with its close look at Kurt’s life. It appears the film reflects a daughter’s desire to know her father: in an un-romanticized and humanized manner, not focusing on the grandeur of Rock stardom. It’s, as much as, an insider’s look at Kurt’s life as it is a daughter’s coming to terms with who her father was as a person. Let me digress a bit. I was setting in a cafe in Austin Texas during SXSW at the W. I was at a table of the heirs of a very famous musician and one someone whose father had recently passed, in an unfortunate manner, whose was a cultural influencers known to everyone. We talked about music and vertical marketing, but the underling theme was comforting the one who had just lost his Dad. We as outsiders only know his father as the impressive figure we’d see weekly on TV. But for him all that didn’t matter. His memories of his Dad wasn’t that figure we saw on television. It was the man who taught him to tie his shoe as a child, who flew a kite with him on the beach or helped him with his homework and taught him valuable life lessons. The man who validated his him and provided a templet of manhood for him, was where his thoughts were at when we kibitzing at the table, not public showman we all felt we knew. His Dad was heroic in a way that only a father can be. So all the trappings of fame and popularity fades to meaninglessness when it comes to someone who has laid down his or her life for your good and benefit. This is what I see in Montage of Heck. It is the exploration and the discovery of someone you never knew, but really, really want to know, and to understand. This is where Montage of Heck really scores as a film, as it pieces together Kurt’s much trumpeted persona and little understood life. It’s the director that crystallizes the vision but it’s the producer that sets the tone the director hopes to accomplish when honing a film to be viewed by the public.
The themes of the movie revolves around alienation from his family and peer group. Ridiculed by Donald, his father, and discounted socially amongst his peers he was pretty much disenfranchised culturally and a loner. There the humiliation of his first sexual encounter and then his failed attempt at suicide. I found all the interviews with family and friends non-confrontational, matter of fact and informative. I found Wendy O’Connor’s interview most insightful coming from a mother’s perspective. There’s this particular point in the film where Wendy expresses her fear for him after Kurt lets her hear the master tape of Nevermind. Wendy says to Kurt, “And I said, You’re not ready for this. You better buckle up!” Krist Novoselic’s was billed as Kurt’s friend when presenting his views of Kurt in the the movie. Courtney Love comes across sane and relevant in her interviews, not spun and ego centric. There’s been much press about how Dave Grohl doesn’t fit into this version of Montage of Heck but there is the prospect that at some future date his perspective will be added.
I found some of the most telling moments came near the end with Kurt and Courtney, living together in their one bedroom Hollywood pad. It was more or less a junkie squat and it really reflected a part of the Punk lifestyle. You have Courtney saying things like, Kurt wants to get to 3 million dollars and be a junkie. Courtney explains herself, by sharing the last time she hit, after finding out she was pregnant with Frances Bean. This footage of them together was as endearing at points as it was at point off-putting at other points. One of the best points came when Kurt explained how he didn’t want to open for Gun and Roses and make lots of money. He mocking talked about how he’d miss the snake dance and the on stage show of G&R. From a Punk Rocker’s perspective this was absolutely hilarious as Kurt stutter and stammered through a mocking performance of Axel’s and G&R’s stage antics. You could say that this part of the film was really a montage of mockery of the contemporary music scene of that time. The bathing and bathroom scenes were riotously funny and humanizing as the story arcs to its inevitable fad to black conclusion. Kurt from this point takes on one last tour and the conclusion is near when his mother, Wendy, confronts him with his heroin use in his old bedroom. It’s a sad dark moment when she asks, ‘Are you addicted to the prick of the needle?” He nods yes and sobs. For all the fame and success this is one of the most heartbreaking moments and sets the tone for the end of the film.
Montage of Heck offers the most vivid and focused view of Kurt’s life. He was an anti-hero that became an archetype and hero to a generation. It was an unwanted yoke that proved lethal to bare. Kurt was the type of person that would shudder in horror as the crowd roared awaiting for him to mount the stage, rather than him reveling in it with glee. There was the irony of him building his life from rejection and then being accepted by all in the most encompassing and unexpected way. This is the grist of good story telling but not always the best way to experience life. Montage of Heck will be premiering on HBO on May 4th.