Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for HBO

26 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Courtney Love attends premiere of Kurt Cobain documentary ‘Cobain: Montage of Heck’.

“It’s now my duty to/completely drain you.” You expected to hear Nirvana songs playing over the MARC Theater’s P.A. system before the world premiere of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.

A friend stood in the doorway of my college dorm room, face slack, and said two words: “Kurt died.” And over the ensuing days and months the machinery of pop culture churned, desperately trying to put his death into some sort of relatable context. But when that line from Nevermind’s “Drain You” came on a few minutes before the lights dimmed, you wouldn’t have guessed just how prophetic the sentiment was. Confidenti@l is told that family drama is brewing around Saturday’s premiere of “Montage of Heck,” a documentary about Kurt Cobain executive-produced by his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. A multimedia mix of the singer-songwriter’s home movies, journal entries, drawings, notebook scrawlings and audio recordings (buffered, naturally, by vintage interview excerpts and concert clips), Brett Morgen’s documentary is more than just a must-see for Nirvana fans. The problem is that her mother, Courtney Love, is also expected at the afternoon screening, one of the most buzzed-about moments on this year’s Sundance calendar.

The 22-year-old served as an executive producer on the project, which is the first fully authorised film about the late Nirvana frontman and features previously unreleased music and home movies. A child of divorce, known for being empathetic to a fault, reluctantly drawn into a world of fame he never wanted and driven to drug abuse by a stomach ailment that only heroin could cure. It’s an eight-years-in-the-making collective labor of love that offers a private peek into the artist’s mind, from the first creative stirrings to the spiral downward. A source close to the pair tells us that the uneasy peace forged between them over the last couple of years is over, at least for now, and that the mother and daughter “aren’t speaking.” The source says that Frances, who was just a 1-year-old when the Nirvana singer committed suicide in 1994, won’t walk the carpet with mom and would have preferred that she “stayed away altogether.” The insider noted that it would be a struggle to keep attention-happy rock star Love away, and that if uninvited she “might just show up anyway.” The insider says that event producers are praying the tension doesn’t blow up during the glitzy events for the HBO movie, which was written, produced and directed by the maker of “Crossfire Hurricane” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Brett Morgen. It was a tragic narrative, but comforting in its familiarity, and passing murder conspiracy theories aside we’ve pretty much stuck with it for the last 20 years.

And by the time you get to the final shot of Kurt thanking the audience at the band’s MTV Unplugged show, you don’t just feel as if you’ve gotten to know the man better. Pulling from a treasure trove of unreleased audio, video, photos, and journal entries, it’s a whirlwind trip through the life and mind of the musician that holds nothing back. She was in the audience, as was Kurt’s mom, his sister Kim, Krist Novoselic and Courtney Love, who was thanked profusely by the director for her trust. “I dare you to find someone else who’d hand you the keys to their storage facility,” he cracked, “and say ‘Go through all my shit, make a fucking movie and I’ll see it when it’s done.'” To say that Morgen got unfettered access to the frontman’s personal belongings would be putting it mildly. Not fun,” Love told the Telegraph in April of last year. “But without getting into her personal life, which she’s very private about, she saw people being dishonest and craven, and she eventually came back and said I need my mom.” There are snapshots of him as a sullen teen, with Kurt’s voiceover describing how discovering pot and punk helped him cope with a profound sense of alienation.

And it will make you hate Cobain at times. “My movies tend to try to become an embodiment of the subject,” Morgen said in a post screening Q&A, and to achieve that goal the filmmaker uses a stylistic mash-up of archival footage, interviews, and extended animation sequences. It’s in here, as are glimpses of endless notebooks filled with artwork, prospective band names (The Reaganites, Hare Lip), and embryonic versions of what would become iconic songs. Donald Cobain, sharing the same shocking light eyes as his son, grips the arm of a sofa as he struggles to talk about him, demonstrating in a single moment the meager emotional support he must have provided Kurt during childhood.

Testimonials from his family members, ex-girlfriend Tracy Marander, Novoselic and Love help bridge the gaps between flipping through the pages and sifting through the Kurtaphenalia. (Dave Grohl is conspicuously absent, which Morgen explained in the postscreening Q&A: He only interviewed the Foo Fighter three weeks ago, after he’d locked the film down. Morgen takes the audience further by using audio recordings from Cobain — in one sequence, Cobain recounts what appears to be a teenaged suicide attempt on a set of railroad tracks — and brings them to life as animated sequences. There’s a chance he’ll edit the footage in some time in the future, the director said.) But any Rock Documentary 101 concessions pretty much stop there.

If you’re familiar with his work at all, there’s something undeniably visceral about seeing the cover of Incesticide come to life, or the familiar scrawl of Cobain’s handwriting pouring out onto the page. It even takes the mythologizing a step further, presenting the completion of Nirvana’s breakout record Nevermind as an operatic tragedy, complete with choral backing and the idea the Cobain’s mother Wendy O’Connor preternaturally saw the downfall that was to come. We also get a disjointed, disorienting look at fame through his eyes, seen as a jumble of shows, news reports and vapid TV interrogations that all bleed together. And we get an uncomfortably intimate look at his life with Courtney, including self-shot close-ups of the couple making out, bitching about their treatment in the press and a pregnant Love showing off her breasts.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable to watch at times, particularly as Cobain continues to spiral even after the birth of his daughter, but it’s not all morbid. There’s a love and tenderness between the two, and Cobain is so charismatic that watching him talk shit about Soundgarden and Guns N’ Roses to his wife is undeniably hilarious.

But it also reveals an astounding amount of self-consciousness and insecurity, a point that the film drives home again and again: despite his enormous talent, Cobain was a thin-skinned man who was incapable of taking criticism or critique of any sort. Which just makes it that much more heartbreaking to watch Kurt unravel via violent voicemails and pages of his notebook that attest to a cry for help — one entry is simply the phrase “Go kill yourself” repeated over and over. The most haunting moment comes when Rolling Stone’s David Fricke can be heard over the soundtrack asking Cobain about the In Utero outtake “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”: “Either you’re being really satirical, or you’re going to a real dark place here.” Kurt’s response is a laugh that’s positively chilling.

What Morgen’s movie makes clear is that he was actually both those things: the driven artist who enjoyed playing to massive crowds, and the one who hid away and distanced himself to avoid hurtful negative feedback. But this film is made with a tremendous amount of love.” Morgen’s strange, wonderful, audio-visual assault accomplishes all of that, and it does something much harder than the usual routine of taking a dead rock star and making them mythic.

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