By Reid Duncan Carmichael
VANCOUVER — Walking in to the Rio Theatre to see Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, I had some expectations. Like many people I am fairly familiar with the Cobain legend and, like a lot of young people, I grew up with admiration for the rock star’s sorted and painful drama—to live hard, make something beautiful and die young has been romanticized plenty in popular culture. That being said, I had an idea in my head that Montage of Heck would offer something new to interested fans and music history buffs. The never-before-seen recordings, diary entries and home videos promised the real and ugly truth of the tragedy behind one of the most celebrated musicians in rock and roll.
It succeeds. Mostly. Indeed, the home videos and commentary from the Cobain family paint a picture of a child with a happy upbringing whose creative and emotional mind struggled with a torn-apart family in Aberdeen. The trials that apparently fueled a young Kurt’s creative mind were told well enough through interviews and photographs as well as animated diary entries that present themselves throughout the film. These entries act almost as a centerpiece and a large chunk of the film is presented in small excerpts from love notes and diary entries written by Cobain. Unfortunately, where these fall flat is with their delivery. While some provide interesting insight, many are presented with little context. Even worse, some are barely legible which makes taking a break from the rest of the film to read them feel like a waste of screen time.
By far, the most interesting sections of the film involve voice recordings of a young Cobain dubbed over Disney/Pixar style animations. Unfortunately, these clips are very few.
The interviews with Cobain’s family and friend (played only by Krist Novoselic) mostly hit the mark. They relate chosen stories well and help add personal insight in to the well-known downfall of the Nirvana frontman. Courtney Love especially (after she lights a cigarette before every question) provides some intimate knowledge of Cobain’s struggles with addiction and their home life prior and following the birth of daughter Frances Bean Cobain… who, unfortunately, is left absent from the interviews. She was involved with executive production but has no presence in the film, something that could have added a touch of needed gravity to it, especially considering its conclusion revolves mostly around the drama of her birth.
If you’re a Nirvana nut or even just interested in music history, this is an interesting documentary. It delivers on promises to provide a more-true version of the Cobain legend, and you do see his fall from grace. You see him as a junkie. You see the people that loved him comment on his genius, in contrast to seeing the pain he must have felt his whole life. The film does struggle with the delivery and has a few noticeable missed opportunities, but though the story it tells is well known, it tells it with a conviction and an intimacy that can’t be found elsewhere.BC, British Columbia, Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Nirvana, Rio Theatre