Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hot Docs 2015 Film Review - Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Using a mixture of homemade movies, animation, archival footage and current day interviews, Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck tells the story of the performer that almost immediately received the moniker: Voice of a Generation which he did not handle well.  

The first interviews of the documentary are with Kurt’s mother, father and step mother.  The significant event in Kurt’s early years was his parent's divorce when he was 9 years old. The impact turned an active, happy, busy child into a maurading handful that first his mother then father couldn't handle leading to a tour amongst relatives in Aberdeen, Washington that lasted as little as two weeks at a time.

After one particularly rough period in high school the pages of Kurt's journals is the details for his first suicide attempt. Cobain headed out to the train tracks decided to sit on one of the rails. The oncoming train switched rails at the juncture before and whizzed by Cobain in the darkness. The scene is recreated through animation a tool that the production used very will to visualize the events in Cobain's life. 

The next main contributor to the narrative is Kurt's girlfriend from his late teens.  At the time Kurt was running a cleaning business while writing and playing on the side in the clubs around Seattle. He made little money and needed someone to support him. Since he cleaned at odd hours, Cobain spent his days in the apartment writing songs, working on chords, playing different instruments creating the sound that would be the basis of the Nevermind Album.  Animation is used effectively again here as Cobain is seen sitting on the couch with his guitar and in the kitchen on the counter as the lyrics and chords begin to come together. The animated journal entries appear again with a list of Things A Band Needs to Do that included playing live and making a demo tape. The animated journal notes and drawings show Cobain's band influences including Bad Brains plus failed band names that pop up on page then are crossed out including the name Reganites. Then on the next pages are a mixture of complaints about severe stomach pain, rage at instances of being humiliated, the name Geffen records and the lyrics of Smells Like Teen Spirit as the song Lithium blares in the background. Mother Wendy O'Conner recalls Kurt putting his demo into the tape deck for her to hear. After listening to the songs Ms. O'Conner speaks the truest words in the film when she recalls telling Kurt you're not ready for this. 

Director Britt Morgen moves more to archival concert footage, an abundance of MTV tape and home movies to document the rise of Nirvana to the biggest band in the world and voice of disaffected youth within months of the March 1991 release of Nevermind. Now the story is told through interviews with Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl normally with an MTV mike in front of them at various promotional and tour stops around the world. Insight gained from the interviews are that Kurt does not like doing them, Dave Grohl gaining his voice and the first signs of Cobain's heroin nod. 

The last major contributor to the documentary to appear is Courtney Love. She is introduced through   home video at a band tour stop. Kurt is on stage asking fans to be nice to her then its on to his 6 month sabbatical at the peak of the band to retire to an apartment in New York with Courtney video taping their activities and feeding their habits. This is the raw and painful part of the piece that ends with the birth of Francis Bean followed by a return to recording. 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck uses unique and creative ways to give a voice to the subject of a documentary that is no longer with us. Director Britt Morgan uses animated scenes in addition to animating the pages of Cobain' journals to tell the musicians story.  The film hits the main stages of Cobain's life: exuberant youngster, troubled teen, music icon, heroin addict.  The documentary is a well crafted project that will appeal to the Nirvana fans, biography enthusiast and surveyors tortured souls alike. It is a film that I can strongly recommend. 

*** 1/2 Out of 4. 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck | Britt Morgan | U.S.A. | 2015 | 132 Minutes. 

Aberdeen, Seattle , Washington State, Grunge, Divorce, Suicide, Disaffected Youth, Voice of a Generation, Musician, Heroin, MTV.

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