What else can you say about Kurt Cobain? It’s been nearly 25 years since Nirvana shocked the world with their major label debut record Nevermind and people are still captivated by the life and untimely death only 3 years later of the enigmatic frontman. The new HBO documentary Montage of Heck forgoes the usual analysis and let’s Cobain tell it in (mostly) his own words, and the results are fascinating.
Montage uses Kurt’s own personal journals, drawings, home movies and audio recordings to tell the story of a troubled child of divorce who grew up to be one of the most famous people in the world almost out of spite, an intensely sensitive man for whom praise was almost as hard to accept as criticism. The well trod story of Nirvana’s meteoric rise to stardom feels fresh here due to the personal insight on display and several beautiful animated sequences bringing Cobain’s recorded voice to life.
As things begin to unravel for a the fame-averse Kurt the personal footage becomes harder to watch, especially when Courtney Love comes into is life. It has been and will be debated to death whether Love contributed to his downfall or offered him as much comfort and companionship as she could until his inevitable end but what’s on film here is hard to ignore or argue with. An emaciated, sore covered Cobain, one of the most influential artists of all time, obviously high, encouraged by Love, both to create and to destroy himself. A genius torn apart before our very eyes. It’s also difficult to re-live the Cobains’ battle against Vanity Fair for publishing an article that accuses Courtney of using heroin while pregnant, which she now admits to. The honest and honorable Cobain destroying his credibility by threatening the magazine, all based on Courtney’s lies. Again, difficult to watch, but important to remember.
The film stops just short of directly documenting the very end, leaving viewers on the artistic high note of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance, recorded just a few months before Kurt’s untimely suicide. Whatever the reasons for the how, why and when of the tragedy the story is now here to be taken at face value. This film’s greatest achievement is being totally unbiased, not condoning or condemning Kurt’s parents, friends, band mates, family or even himself. What you see is what you get, the genius, the recluse, the addict, the statistic, the legend. Viewers can draw their own conclusions about a man that was loved by so many but couldn’t love himself.