Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Kurt Cobain, one of the most iconic and beloved musicians of all-time, experienced near Beatlemania status in the early to mid-ninties with his band, Nirvana, prior to his suicide on April 5, 1994. Cobain was hailed as the spokesperson of Generation X, an alienated and fed-up slice of America’s youth, and he hated how much he loved the title. Bashing mercilessly on the strings of his guitar and screeching and shouting and even burping into the microphone, Cobain captured the very essence of what the pissed off and too-far-gone teenage masses felt; he cut to their core with his metal-punk (coined as “grunge”) riffs, which laid restlessly underneath his growling and raspy, but nevertheless catchy, vocal melodies.

He was just what they needed, and he came at the perfect time. Just when painting had become complacent, Van Gogh turned everything on its head; as soon as the proper place of literature in society had been defined, Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience; once music ceased to be music, Kurt Cobain jump-started the industry with an overdose of adrenaline. And it was an overdose…

Brett Morgen’s Cobain rockumentary Montage of Heck is without a doubt the most intimate and invasive examination of the musician’s life that we have seen thus far. While I certainly enjoyed the waves of Kurtfo (information about Kurt Cobain) crashing over me, learning countless new things about who Cobain was, what his hopes were for the future, and why he killed himself, I felt guilty for liking it and for even letting it happen. Long before this film was released, I knew that Kurt Cobain was an incredibly private individual. This was evident after watching countless interviews that he did on YouTube and reading endless articles about “who he really was” in everything from Rolling Stone to random blogs that I have stumbled across on the internet. The Montage of Heck trailer even emphasizes this more private side of the rock star:

As a result, I felt uncomfortable and slightly hesitant watching this film. It revealed such an unbelievable amount of his personal works of art, things that he never meant for anyone to see. These include numerous notebook doodlings and band, album, and song name possibilities, as well as diary entries. I never knew the true creative giant that Cobain was. Of course, I revered him as being one of the most unique and influential musicians of his time, but the vast sum of art that he had created in his short lifetime is so immensely large that it is hard to imagine where he found time for anything else. His family collected a massive reservoir of creative genius teeming with raw, pulsating emotion. Morgen’s access to this basin of brilliance is what has made Montage of Heck both the greatest and most disgraceful look at Kurt Cobain’s life to date.

At the same time, maybe I am totally wrong to condemn the film on the premise that Morgen told the big secret that Cobain might have been clinging to even in death. I am forced to say “might have been,” here. In his suicide note, Cobain requested in one of his journals that someone please “Look through my things, and figure me out.” I am almost skeptical that Cobain ever really wrote these words, considering that they come from a collection of his diaries which was published after his death. It seems that it would be violently unethical, and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking so, to insert these words into the collection to validate the ethical nature of the book itself — it would be rather ironic if this is what actually happened.

However, if these words are true, if Cobain really did want us to know who he was, but was too shy and embarrassed to tell us himself, then Morgen has outdone himself, creating a true masterpiece of emotional and passionate storytelling that has a gritty, authentic Nirvana feel to it and depicts a heart-breakingly honest portrait of the man who was Kurt Cobain.

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