UK Release Date: 10th April 2015
Runtime: 132 minutes
Director: Brett Morgen
Writer: Brett Morgen
Starring: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Don Cobain, Jenny Cobain, Kim Cobain, Krist Novoselic
Synopsis: An intimate, colourful look at the career of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, including archive material provided by the Cobain family.
Kurt Cobain has perhaps had more documentary films made about him and books written about him than any pop culture figure of the last generation. Brett Morgen, best known for The Kid Stays in the Picture, is the latest filmmaker to tackle the Nirvana frontman’s life, gaining unprecedented access to the Cobain family archive and the personal belongings of the man himself for Cobain: Montage of Heck.
The film is a freewheeling, sprawling take on Cobain’s life, from his earliest moments until a month before his suicide in 1994. A variety of mildly interesting talking heads, including notably Courtney Love, are interspersed with home video footage and stylishly animated depictions of Cobain’s own writing and art.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Cobain: Montage of Heck. Morgen’s access to the Cobain archive yields some incredibly interesting material which gives the film an air of insider exclusivity that justifies its existence in the crowded field of movies about Cobain’s life and death.
| "I was an under-developed, immature little dude who never got laid."
Unfortunately, it is precisely that blessing that proves a curse for Morgen. He is clearly an enormous fan of Cobain and, with the support of the Cobain family, he has produced something that feels a tad too hagiographic. This is a film that believes everything Cobain ever said or did was nothing short of an act of pure, unadulterated genius.
It’s also fairly clear that, given the enormous amount of material that Morgen had available to him, he struggled to keep Cobain: Montage of Heck down to a reasonable length. It feels exceptionally bloated at 132 minutes, particularly given the length of the animated sequences. Initially, they’re a visually inventive treat, but they ultimately feel like pretentious interludes that intrude into the film far too often and slow down the pace.
There are moments of freewheeling genius lurking within Cobain: Montage of Heck, mostly when the subject’s musical talents are allowed to speak for themselves. This is particularly true in the case of the MTV Unplugged performance that occurs late in the film, which does more to paint Cobain as a complex, tortured artist than anything in the preceding two hours.
| "He was searching for whatever made him feel like he wasn’t alone."
If you’re a huge fan of Nirvana or Kurt Cobain, then Montage of Heck could easily become your new favourite film. It’s a loving portrait of the man made with the blessing and approval of those who loved him the most. It’s often entertaining, but never manages to get over its own pretensions.
Pop or Poop?
There’s no doubt that Kurt Cobain makes for an interesting documentary subject and was a truly iconic musician.
However, Cobain: Montage of Heck fails to convey much beyond its pretentious animated interludes and endless trudging through archive footage at the expense of insight.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.