SXSW Film Review: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (USA, 2015)


Full disclosure: Kurt Cobain has long been one of my music idols, and as a result, anything which grants any insight into his life is only going to receive the utmost of praise from me. I expected that Brett Morgen’s long in the works Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck would be no exception to this rule, but I was in no way prepared for the emotional rollercoaster Morgen’s film proved to be. Offering up glimpses of Cobain’s life that to this point were hidden deep in the family vault, Montage of Heck is not only essential viewing for any fan of the Nirvana front man but also succeeds in showing him in a whole new light.

As the first fully authorised documentary of Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck takes full advantage of countless home videos, journals and sound recordings, which Morgen was gifted by Cobain’s wife Courtney Love to make the film. Interviews with Love herself, Kurt’s parents, former lovers and band mates are also utilised to full effect, painting a portrait of a troubled young man who was in no way prepared for the fame which was thrust upon him.

In the later stages of the film, in a voiceover by Kurt assessing his newfound notoriety, he utters his belief that “I feel like people want me to die because it would be the classic rock and roll story”. For me at least, this line perfectly symbolises the destructive nature of Kurt’s life and personality shown in the film, shaped by a troubled upbringing in a broken home, fuelled by an addiction to heroin which made global headlines, and tragically ending, as we all know, by his own hand in 1994.

Yet Montage of Heck doesn’t dwell on his death, and although a series of animated montages of both Kurt’s doodles and writings found in the countless journals he left behind paint the picture of an arguably disturbed individual, the film is very much a celebration of his life and the countless achievements he made within the music industry.

This is achieved best through the snippets of home videos interspersed throughout the documentary which help debunk the myths surrounding Cobain and show him to be a caring individual who first and foremost was driven by a deep love for his family. We see Kurt as a young child, awkwardly plucking away on a small acoustic guitar. We see Kurt as a young man, jamming away in a garage with his band. But perhaps most surprisingly, we are also shown extensive footage of Kurt and Courtney in their own home, which offers perhaps the most revealing glimpses of the singer’s life to be seen by the public eye.

It’s no secret that Courtney Love has often been regarded as the Yoko Ono of grunge music, and there is much that could be said about the controversies surrounding alleged drug binges during her pregnancy with the couple’s only child Frances Bean (who is also an executive producer of this film). And yes, this is addressed in Montage of Heck. Yet this footage shows that Cobain was lovingly devoted to his wife, and although they may have led an unconventional lifestyle, the snippets shown strongly suggests Courtney and Frances were the family Kurt was searching for his whole life.

As a lifelong fan of Nirvana, Montage of Heck represents to me everything that is perfect about the documentary form. I have no idea what non-fans would make of it, but I do think they could do worse than make this film their first foray into the world of Kurt Cobain.


Running Time: 132 minutes

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck was screening as part of SxSW Film Festival.
Release dates for Australian screenings are coming soon.


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