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Documentaries & Non-Fiction Series

Tuned In Preview: HBO’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck 

Tuned In Preview: HBO’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

WARNING: Mild spoilers for Montage of Heck

HBO’s latest documentary gives an in depth look at the life — and the psyche — of Nirvana’s late singer, Kurt Cobain. The Brett Morgen film showcases some amazing footage in the form of videos, artwork, photos and more; talks to members of Cobain’s family, friends as well as Courtney Love; and really tries to draw a complete picture of the troubled artist who took his own life when he was 27. 

From HBO:

KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK explores the indelible record of a life lived on the fine edge between madness and genius, painting a searing and unforgettable portrait of the iconic musician as it mirrors his quicksilver mind. Using Cobain’s own words and images, this intimate look at an elusive and conflicted artist marks the first documentary to be made with the cooperation of his family.

Morgen weaves together moving first-person testimony from Cobain’s mother and sister; his widow, Courtney Love; former girlfriend Tracy Marander; ex-bandmate Krist Novoselic and others with Cobain’s own words, providing an unflinching tribute to a contentious and contradictory talent, who is still revered by millions around the world 20 years after his tragic death.

Given unprecedented access to Cobain’s personal and family archives by the late rocker’s estate, Morgen uncovered a wealth of new material that documents the emotional rollercoaster of his personal life and celebrates his uncompromising creative spirit, including the inspiration for the film’s title, a circa-1988 “sound collage” he titled “Montage of Heck.” Recorded by Cobain on a four-track cassette recorder, it’s a free-form mash-up of song bites, manipulated radio recordings, elements of demos and disparate sounds created or recorded by Cobain.

Using Cobain’s artwork, photography, journals and family photographs as inspiration, the filmmakers have produced original animation to illustrate important moments in his life. Also featured are dozens of Nirvana songs and performances, as well as previously unheard Cobain originals.

Thoughts

Watching this documentary made me realize how much I didn’t know about Cobain when he was alive. But that was never my mission. I simply loved Nirvana’s music. It made me feel…and that was good enough for me. But finding out how his life influenced his music is both beautiful and painful. Through interviews with the people who knew him along with classic interviews with Cobain and Nirvana, artwork, music, photos, sound montages and most incredibly, a massive amount of video footage, Montage of Heck really humanized him for me. We learn about:

-Cobain’s turbulent family life, which was a main source of rejection. Those feelings of rejection, abandonment and humiliation would color the rest of his life and his music. Those scars never faded.

-Not only was he a musician he was an artist. We even see some of his artwork as a kid and as an adult.

-His relationship with Courtney Love. Courtney’s not only interviewed for the doc, we see these videos of the two at home. It’s incredible just how much we see of Cobain. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be able to witness this, these moments are so intimate and personal. But, at the same time, they’re so fascinating to watch.

-His struggle with drugs. Actually, we learn not just about his struggle, but Courtney’s too. The doc goes into how their battle with drugs affected the birth of their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, who is actually one of the executive producers of Montage of Heck.

-Some of the little things I loved:

  • Cobain’s relating to a 1979 movie called, Over the Edge.
  • Seeing footage of Nirvana’s famous MTV Unplugged appearance
  • Listening to a haunting version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • Seeing footage of Nirvana which included a young Dave Grohl
  • Video of Kurt saying things like “Party On, Wayne.”

After finishing the film, it’s incredible to think that Cobain only lived to be 27. He experienced so much in that 27 years. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck premieres tonight at 9/8c on HBO.

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