I was fortunate to be able to see Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck this weekend in Hollywood, and I can’t emphasize enough how good it is – good enough that I saw it twice. The second screening I went to also had the added bonus of a Q&A with director Brett Morgen, who spent eight years working on the film. Based on interviews with a handful of people who knew Kurt best, as well as access to a treasure trove of personal effects owned by the Cobain family, this film is probably the closest people are going to get to a Kurt Cobain autobiography. With the exception of a handful of soundbites from interviews with his parents, sister, ex-girlfriend Tracy Marander, bandmate Krist Novoselic, and wife Courtney Love, most of the film is narrated by Kurt himself, collected from audio recordings he made for himself as well as interviews, home movies, excerpts from his journals, and his artwork.
His life story – and that of Nirvana – has been told and retold many times, so in terms of factual content there isn’t much new that most Nirvana fans didn’t already know. Without giving anything away, Morgen does an outstanding job of trying to portray such a complex, contradictory and revered figure as Cobain within the confines of two hours and fifteen minutes. Worth noting are the rearrangements of Nirvana songs like “All Apologies” and “Lithium” by composer Jeff Danna (you can hear a few snippets of these in the trailer), and the animated sequences created by Hisko Hulsing and Stefan Nadelman, who animated some of Cobain’s artwork as well as create original sequences to illustrate life experiences recounted by Cobain himself on his audio tapes.
I would strongly recommend people go see this film in theaters if they can – mainly for the sound. During the live performance sequences, it feels like the closest thing to actually being at a Nirvana concert, and sounds absolutely incredible. For those of us who never got the chance to go to a Nirvana show, this is probably as good as it’s ever going to get.
Update: One more thing worth mentioning – the companion book to the movie has scans and photos of the artwork, journal entries and artifacts, as well as outtakes from the interviews which were not used in the film. I have a copy and highly recommend reading it. There is supposed to be a soundtrack for the project with material from Kurt’s tapes, but no release date or further details yet.
Update II: Here’s a blog post from a few years ago. During the course of my Alice in Chains research, I found a copy of the November 1988 issue of Backlash which had the review for the Love Buzz/Big Cheese single – Nirvana’s first single. Enjoy!