kurt cobain


You know that reaction you get when you first hear an amazing new piece of music? Your blood quickens,the nerve centres in your brain light up, and you feel excited and afraid? What if you got that feeling when your own child played you a song…a song they’d written and recorded? And what if you knew that what they were playing you was going to change everything?

Would you feel excited, the way new music usually makes one feel? Or would you worry yourself sick?

MONTAGE OF HECK is a look at the life of Kurt Cobain – lead singer of Nirvana. Born in the late sixties to working class parents in Aberdeen, WA, Cobain grew up restless, anxious, and disenfranchised. Continually rejected and shuttling himself from place to place, Kurt kept audio and written journals as ways to creatively express himself. When he eventually found his calling thanks to the music he’d unleash on the world, those journals would become an insight into a soul that was only with us quite briefly.

What the man himself doesn’t tell us is tenderly coloured-in by those closest to him including his family, friends, and band mates.

In 2002, I got a copy of Journals – the book that was curated from Kurt’s diary entries, sketches, lyrics, and poems. Looking at the mundane bookkeeping of a band trying to make it, and seeing it side-by-side with doodles that were alternately macabre and whimsical was an incredible look into the personality of this tortured artist. MONTAGE OF HECK brings many of the pages of that book to life – literally. Seeing Kurt’s sketches turned into animated sequences, and hearing his words and lyrics compliments Kurt’s musical legacy in a moving and beautiful way.

The film is at its best when it takes us places we haven’t been. Actually, what’s amazing is that this film about a world-famous rock star works best when it casts its eye towards everyday, humdrum, home movies. When the film dedicates itself to home movies of Kurt as a child, or of the home life of Courtney, Kurt, and Frances, we find ourselves fascinated. With Kurt’s childhood, we see moments of innocence that will eventually fuel true discontent. In these moments it’s difficult to believe that the cherubic boy we see on-screen will one day pen “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”. Flip forward to Casa Love-Cobain, and we see two people who don’t quite seem to be all there, and yet have a connection that makes them both undeniably complete. Both of these people may have felt disenfranchised during the period the film captures, but you’d never know it for how enamoured, infatuated, and intimate they act with one-another.

These moments are the film’s greatest strength, and also its greatest detriment. When we drift away from them to focus on the 20,000th retelling of Nirvana’s meteoric rise, or Kurt’s lashing out at the media coverage of his personal life, we feel as though we’ve seen these things before. We miss the admiration in the voice of his first girlfriend, the frankness spoken by his mother, and the feverish scrawl of his own written words. These are the pieces of the puzzle that haven’t been completely explored, but once the film fits these pieces in place, it moves on.

MONTAGE OF HECK positions itself as the final word of a rock icon. However, between the absence of Dave Grohl, the skirting of Kurt’s suicide, and the spectre of Frances Bean (a producer on the film), it feels like there are still words to be had.


KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK has finished its Hot Docs engagement. It will screen in selected cities through the next several weeks, and play on HBO beginning May 4th. (official website)