Without a doubt, the best documentary of 2015.
Movie Review #1,017
HBO Documentary Films
2 hours, 25 minutes
Released May 4, 2015
Directed by Brett Morgen
Writer: Brett Morgen
“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is a difficult film to assess. Perhaps that’s because it’s just as difficult to take in–and it deserves a great hand for that. This is a masterful amalgamation of the experimental, the narrative, and the nonfiction. How much of it is actually true is impossible to determine, but we don’t care to determine it, either. “Montage of Heck” could be 100% fiction, and it still has our eyes glued to the screen.
We’ve never gotten a more personal account of Kurt Cobain, or any artist, on film before. It’s a vivid, graphic, lurid, and shockingly enthralling montage (as the title promises) of virtually anything that Cobain ever created. Forget the interviews with Kurt’s friends, neighbors, and family–these are what make the film into such a heavily personal account. Super 8 footage, haphazard notebook sketches, demos, budgets, love letters, autobiographical tape recordings, diary entries. The embellishments that have emerged through the production of the film add another dimension to its reality. We hear a variety of Nirvana songs not in their pure and produced forms, but in strange, surreal orchestrations by Jeff Danna. Whenever Kurt narrates his life story, it’s depicted in “Waking Life”-esque animation sequences.
I’ll note that the film is intrusive on the life of Cobain and his wife Courtney Love. They couple is seen either naked or doing drugs several times throughout the latter half of the film. But it certainly adds to the affinity the film allows us to feel with Cobain. The film is a brutal work of art in that the more filth and depravity it reveals in Cobain’s life, the more it hooks us, and the more we begin to identify with the artist. His much-talked-about death is mentioned in nothing more than a ten-second title card, and for a film that both explores his life, that’s all that truly needs to be said about his death. We end up feeling sorry for Cobain’s unfortunate (and sudden) demise, but more than that, we find ourselves celebrating the genius that was present for that short period.