Overview: Kurt Cobain, legendary lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Nirvana, “the flagship band of Generation X,” remains an object of reverence and fascination for music fans around the world. His story is told for the first time in KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK, a fully authorized feature documentary co-produced by HBO Documentary Films and Universal Pictures International Entertainment Content Group, which debuted MONDAY, MAY 4 at 9:00pm.
Brett Morgen, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind such acclaimed documentaries as the HBO presentations “Crossfire Hurricane,” which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones, and “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” is writer, director and producer of the film.. Visual artist Frances Bean Cobain, Cobain’s daughter, is executive producer. KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK explores the indelible record of a life lived on the fine edge between madness and genius, painting a searing and unforgettable portrait of the iconic musician as it mirrors his quicksilver mind. Using Cobain’s own words and images, this intimate look at an elusive and conflicted artist marks the first documentary to be made with the cooperation of his family.
Morgen weaves together moving first-person testimony from Cobain’s mother and sister; his widow, Courtney Love; former girlfriend Tracy Marander; ex-bandmate Krist Novoselic and others with Cobain’s own words, providing an unflinching tribute to a contentious and contradictory talent, who is still revered by millions around the world 20 years after his tragic death. Given unprecedented access to Cobain’s personal and family archives by the late rocker’s estate, Morgen uncovered a wealth of new material that documents the emotional rollercoaster of his personal life and celebrates his uncompromising creative spirit, including the inspiration for the film’s title, a circa-1988 “sound collage” he titled “Montage of Heck.” Recorded by Cobain on a four-track cassette recorder, it’s a free-form mash-up of song bites, manipulated radio recordings, elements of demos and disparate sounds created or recorded by Cobain. Using Cobain’s artwork, photography, journals and family photographs as inspiration, the filmmakers have produced original animation to illustrate important moments in his life. Also featured are dozens of Nirvana songs and performances, as well as previously unheard Cobain originals.
Expectations: This will prove to be another strong documentary for HBO I feel sure. It already has generated a lot of talk after it hit the film festivals and a limited engagement on the cinematic screen. It is hard to ignore the buzz. Finally it has come to HBO.
In short, this will be the definitive story of Kurt Cobain. And the smart thing is it will tell the story not just by having viewers watch talking heads reminisce but by using the devise of like in those “In His Own Words” documentaries and Morgen’s own “The Kid Stays In The Picture” film. This piece will be filled with images, words, pictures and lyrics from Kurt Cobain himself. It will certainly prove that Cobain was the voice of a generation, all the while being broken and troubled himself. Here is a part of that montage via the trailer.
Gut Reaction: This documentary packed in so much. You find it cool and well filmed, but you also see it as harsh, raw, revealing and amazing. Most just see and know Kurt Cobain as a singer in a band that spoke for a generation and for the sound called ’grunge.’ Most know him as a mind in angst with a drugged out body. But no one who ever really wanted to could ever really get behind the why and how of his life until MONTAGE OF HECK. The best place to go is the source and all that pictures and journals and home movies reveal the inner and real Kurt Cobain who still can come across as an icon and still be that troubled and addicted soul.
There are quite a few telling moments in his life to explore. His mother, his sister, his wife his daughter open up, some of these people for the first time to add richness and context to the snippets of words and thoughts from Kurt himself. Plus, you got to have a great soundtrack as well! For those who appreciate his musical contribution you need to see this film. Even if you are a celebrity whore you can appreciate seeing how a man of talent could connect so readily with family and, hell a whole generation of people, while still be addled, crippled and wasted on heroin.
Surely, you can understand by now that MONTAGE OF HECK does not paint a rosy picture of Cobain and his life. It does show it as open and honestly and as real as it really was. He lived as an addict in a drug den. He and Courtney Love were in love and it showed, but it was a love tainted with supporting each other’s habits. It even touches a raw nerve when he talks of failed suicide attempts. Yet though all that they were able to nurture a child, Frances Bean, and keep Nirvana alive enough to leave a mark on music history. It shows you that despite rock music fame and far removed from any celebrity glamour that Cobain was an everyday person who struggled with the monkey on his back – he was just able to leave a lasting impression.
Bonus: After watching the documentary I took a deep dive into the internet to catch others reactions and suck and came across some quotes from director Brett Morgen (pictured) I thought worthy to share via this bonus material. Through an HBO Press release he stated –
“I’m extremely grateful to Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain for granting me unfettered access to Kurt’s possessions. There were over 200 hours of unreleased music and audio, a vast array of art projects, countless hours of home movies and over 4,000 pages of writings, which together provided a new perspective on an influential and prolific artist who rarely revealed himself to the media.”
In a bit of more detail here is an excerpt from a National Public radio (NPR) interview. Here are just two questions and their response. For the dozen or more other Q&A moments go to the complete NPR interview.
NPR: So this is a pretty amazing project, because you were given access to all of these family archives. You’ve got family films from when Kurt was young, personal audio diaries from him and video that captures these really intimate moments between Kurt and Courtney Love and his daughter. First off, how did all of this come to you? Why were you the guy who got access to this stuff?
Brett Morgen: Why was I the chosen one? I had done a movie called “The Kid Stays In The Picture” about the legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans, and the movie was narrated by Bob and told using his photographs that we had brought to life through some visual effects.
Courtney Love had seen this film and was a big fan of the way I was able to animate the photographs, and so she came to me and said, “The world knows Kurt from Nirvana, but in our storage unit, we have a ton of art, and I think that you might be the guy to do some interesting things with it.” And that was in 2007, and I spent the next five years trying to sort of wrangle all the rights together that would be necessary to make the film, and around that time, I was five years into it, things had changed.
Courtney’s daughter Frances had come of age and was now equally in control of the estate. A meeting was set up for me to present Frances with my idea of the movie, and I went to Frances’ house. She opened the door and she greeted me and we shook hands, and she said, “You know, I just met you, but I know you more than I know my father.” And what she meant by that was, Kurt died when she 20 months old, and she had no active memory of her dad, and that was really touching, and that will figure into this narrative in a moment.
And we sat down, and before I could get a word out, she pitched me what she thought her idea of the film was. And she said, “Listen, whatever you do, keep it real and make it honest. That’s the best tribute we can do for Kurt.” She said, “Wherever I go in the world, people say, ‘Oh my God, your dad is so cool and he’s like Santa Claus,’ and I think that Kurt was about honesty, and let’s make an honest film.”
That was the dictate. I then embarked on this journey and eventually the family all came together sort of around Frances, meaning Kurt’s mother and father and sister. This was the first time his mother, father and sister had ever participated in a project of this kind. In fact it’s the first time they were ever interviewed on camera in their lives, which is extraordinary.
NPR: So did your perspective of him change?
BM: Absolutely. I have to say I was so in awe. I continue to this day to be in awe of his ability to connect with people. I mean, what’s so sad and tragic about his story is I think in many ways Kurt felt very alone, and yet through his art he was really able to connect. … Everybody feels protective and possessive about Kurt, and I think that can be attributed to his unique gift, an ability to touch our lives, and make us feel like he’s our friend.
I’ve heard every now and then the criticism, “Why are we still talking about him? He was a druggie who did three albums.” No, that is not true. He is a man who has brought comfort to generations of people all over the world. It’s almost like a rite of passage when you turn 12 and 13 and you look at your parents with different eyes. You have Kurt, and he’s singing about your experiences. They’re our collective experiences. And I think that is why we’re sitting here talking about him today.
In Conclusion: On April 05, 1994 Nirvana fans around the world were devastated by the news of Cobain’s suicide by gunshot. Now, after eight years in the making, KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK chronicles the life of the legendary musician through his quick 27 years. No one should miss this powerfully raw and open look at the man. You might not come away liking him, but you will come away affected by him and maybe even songs like this one.
Next Week: On MONDAY MAY 11 at 9:00pm HBO Documentary Films debuts THOUGHT CRIMES: THE CASE OF THE CANNIBAL COP. Yep, you read that right, but it is not exactly what you think it is. Can you be arrested for a crime if you just fantasize about it?