Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on May 13, 2015

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Dear Frances Bean Cobain
Executive Producer

Dear Frances,

Without you, this film doesn’t exist. Writer/director Brett Morgen has said so several times, in no uncertain terms. This incredibly intimate,unflinching, and insightful documentary about your father, Kurt Cobain, provides the personal access many fans have been craving for years from the late media recluse. But I can’t imagine how much the film must have meant to you.

The world lost an important voice, but you lost so much more: the chance to grow up loved by a man who, the doc makes brutally clear, suffered many demons in his life – from drugs, to debilitating illness, to a trainwreck of a wife. The sum total became a pain he seemingly couldn’t overcome, and now Morgen is literally picking up the pieces to try and salvage the soul of the man. Partly for us curious fans, sure, but really he did it for you – Kurt’s only child.

And thanks to your involvement, warring factions from all sides of the post-Nirvana legal drama appear: friends, family, past lovers, bandmates , and of course, Courtney Love - your “biological mother” (as you refer to her on Twitter in between restraining orders and general estrangement). Love is certainly an important puzzle piece to the story structure, but her most essential contribution is the treasure trove of original material she provided the filmmakers, rather than anything of substance in her interviews.

Your father’s early sketches, for example, play a major role in the “montage” aspects of the titular “heck”. There’s a maniacal restlessness and chaos to their design, which almost vibrate off the page with their excessive motion lines and frenetic accentuations. Mountains of home videos, diary entries, and raw recordings, and even original animation used to create re-enactments all help to construct a truly compelling portrait of a man whose legend has only grown in the music scene in the 20 years since his suicide. But most importantly, the clearance of music means that not only do we get to hear all the songs that made Nirvana the rock phenomenon they became, but even the score deconstructs and rebuilds classic tracks to help set an intimate atmosphere that always feels like an extension of your father’s world.

Most surprising is how the film doesn’t shy away from your father’s faults and foibles. One particular story, about the time he tried to lose his virginity to an overweight girl who was mentally challenged, before attempting to commit suicide, is intense and revealing. Most children would never grant permission to use a story like that when charged with preservation of their parent’s legacy. But I think you saw the bigger picture –how the need to connect meant not just giving the people the man they want, but offering a glimpse of the complex man he really was (in as much as any two hour film could ever attempt to do).

Most disappointing, however, is the non-inclusion of Nirvana’s former drummer/current rock superstar Dave Grohl. Morgen has said Grohl was interviewed, but only 10 days before the film’s scheduled premiere, and that he just couldn’t fit him into the film. I won’t start any more rumours, but suffice to say that even a single line from the man would have helped make the film feel complete. Then again, I guess achieving that feeling was never going to be possible, for fans or for you.



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