In director Brett Morgen’s preceding endeavour Crossfire Hurricane – a documentary on The Rolling Stones – there was nothing more off-putting that seeing frontman Mick Jagger’s name appear in the opening titles as producer. Suddenly you knew that impartiality was to be a relative side-note, and that’s exactly what transpired, in a film that seemed so intent on celebrating the band’s achievements, it disregarded any sense of critique. Nonetheless, Cobain: Montage of Heck on the life of the enigmatic Nirvana star Kurt Cobain, takes a far more detached approach, unbiased and objective – and the film is all the better for it.
Presented in a chronological order, we watch on as Kurt Cobain goes from being a sweet-natured, young-born from Washington, to the frontman of one of the most popular, revolutionary bands of the 90s. We then watch on as he spirals into a dark, black hole, addicted to heroin, living a life of squalor with his wife Courtney Love, before the couple had a child together – ultimately leading towards the singer’s tragic suicide in 1994.
First and foremost, the access that Morgen has collated is remarkable, speaking to Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic (Dave Grohl is nowhere to be seen…) as well as Love, Cobain’s parents, ex-girlfriends, etc. This all helps to create a comprehensive background to the star, as we appreciate and understand his roots, allowing us to contextualise his success accordingly. This seeks only in making him seem all the more human, which is always of great commendation to a filmmaker when dealing with such an elusive, revered subject. However it’s Cobain’s elusive, introverted nature which actually makes this feel uncomfortable to sit through in parts. He often professed to being fed up of the media attention, unable to escape the limelight, and how he craved some privacy. So it therefore feels wrong that we’re watching such intimate, candid footage of him at home with his wife, giving his daughter a bath and so on. Without him being here, able to give permission, you feel as though you’re intruding into the life of someone who didn’t seek this life, and it does feel wrong.
His demise is presented well, however, as we understand his addiction, and what drove him to the edge, and how he became so destructive. This film has enough appeal for both aficionados of the late singer’s work and those less acquainted, as it’s a human tale, showing the highs and lows of a life in the limelight. Just when you thought you knew everything you needed to know about Kurt Cobain, this documentary is on hand to remind you that there’s so much more to take in.