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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Cobain: Montage of Heck

April 11th, 2015 by Conor ONeill Comments


Cobain: Montage of Heck
Directed by: Brett Morgen
Starring: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love & Krist Novoselic
Running time: 132 min

At long last, after countless books, namely Who Killed Kurt Cobain? Followed by bios like 1998’s woeful Kurt and Courtney, the Last 48 hours and all that mess, we finally, finally have an authorised documentary of arguably the biggest rock star of the 1990s. Kurt Donald Cobain’s entrance to this world is framed within social boundaries. Post-war America is humming, even logging towns like Aberdeen in Washington State provide futures. Depends what you demand of your future, or what your future demands of you. Marry, breed, send them to school, hope they turn out okay, grow a grape-face… and die.

Boy Kurt is viewed through the lens of Super-8 camera and as the first born grandchild on both sides lives an idyllic life before Aberdeen goes bust and his parents’ divorce when he was nine-years-old. These innocent films of childhood and parenthood stand juxtaposed to the footage of the film’s 20 odd years later as we get an insider’s glimpse of how Cobain and wife Courtney Love raise their own daughter. But those scenes obviously feature toward the end of the documentary, or is this a movie? At times it’s hard to differentiate between the two or even decide what category to stack this film in with. And that perhaps is what separates this from other music biopics.

Writer and director, Brett Morgan (Crossfire Hurricane, Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America), uses every trick available to dramatise Cobain’s rise and fall. From softly lit interviews with Wendy O’Connor – Kurt’s mum – his dad Donald, his stepmother, sister and first girlfriend Tracy Marander to the obvious chats with Courtney, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl… apologies, Grohl is noticeable only by his absence. I’m sure he was approached but we can only speculate why Grohl didn’t appear. Maybe it was due to time constraints, maybe personal reasons, but it was have been considered of Morgan to at least note his absence.

The animated scenes which punctuate the usual biopic formula can be argued for and against. To some they may seem indulgent, and some of them do run quite a few minutes. But I think the director had no other way of presenting the written work produced by Cobain any other way. If he’d used a look alike actor on film to visually support the adolescent and adult excerpts of Kurt’s often rambling diary entries would’ve been wrong and out of sorts with the feeling of the film. Animation is used again bringing Cobain’s art, which gorgeously features quite heavily, to life. Some of the drawings will bring synapses glowing to John Lennon’s childlike art in A Spaniard in the Works, others are traumatic to the eye and the signs of a desperate mind.

The truly touching scenes of this thoroughly contemplated offering is the home footage of Kurt, Courtney and their daughter Frances. Junkies though they were, there’s little doubt they offered a full circle tilt of Cobain’s own childhood and the baby is truly adored. Other scenes throw caution to the wind to respectability and witness two smack-dazed rock-stars getting on as we want idols to do.

As for the soundtrack, if you love the band you’ll be able to see the progress from Pen Cap Chew – their first name – to Fecal Matter to the final line up of Nirvana. Nevermind and In Utero feature heavily but for you aficionados you’ll hear tracks like Floyd the Barber from Bleach to Molly’s Lips and Been a Son of B-sides album Incesticide. On other occasions we hear a beautiful xylophone rendition of All Apologies which runs through the movie to an inspired choral Smells Like teen Spirit.

If you like music documentaries you’ll like this. If you’re a Nirvana fan you’ll adore it. If you’ve been dragged by your mates or lover to watch this film you will find it interesting but maybe a tad long.

Four Nerds out of Five


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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.