As I wiped away my many, many tears whilst queuing for the toilet after the credits rolled on the latest Kurt Cobain documentary, I heard a fellow cinema-goer say the words, “I dunno, I was expecting something more…” I have no idea what else she could have wanted or expected from the film. I know that as a huge fan of Nirvana, grunge and Chad Channing’s style, that I am completely biased, but it really was awesome!
The film somehow managed to completely pass me by before I went to see it. I knew the film had Frances Bean Cobain as an executive producer, and that it was a huge deal that she and Courtney Love attended the first screening together (their first outing together in five years). I had no idea what to expect, but if Frances was supporting it, then I knew that Brett Morgen’s movie had to be of some worth.
The film is a mix of animation, interviews, dubbed photographs and home movies following Kurt’s life from birth to a week before his death. There are animated sequences that brought his journals and notebooks to life, showing on screen the scribbling and the stream of consciousness from everything he wrote. We are shown all the band names he went through before settling on it—“Our band is called… NIRVANA.” We heard snippets of the hours he spent at home jobless and alone, recording himself singing songs in stupid voices and answering the phone and creating fake news reports. We were given insight into the way his mind worked—The crippling stomach pain, the depression, the fear of humiliation, the confusion he felt towards most aspects of his fame, how much he loved his wife and daughter. We were given insight into all of it.
I was one of those people who refused to buy or read Kurt’s diary when it came out, however long ago. It even felt a little intrusive seeing parts of it come to life on screen. However, I did read “Heavier than Heaven,” the 2001 biography by Charles R. Cross, so I knew most of his story (like everyone). He was a very loved, excitable and energetic kid who became a “problem child” at 9-years-old, when his mother and father divorced. So began his eternal, or should I say, stunted, search for happiness within a family unit. The parts of the film I really loved were the home movies with Courtney—The parts where he secretly films their mouths French kissing and knowing smiles at the camera. “Sloppy lips to lips,” without a doubt, Cobain was in love. I loved the part where they were in their bathroom and she is voicing her concern about leaving him alone on tour. She flashes her “huge” breasts, as he shows off a handlebar mustache mid-shave.
These were the highlights of the film. The only part that was truly new to me was how much Kurt and Courtney loved each other, how much they both really did want to succeed as a family unit and how they really were best friends. We saw them both get really insecure about the public negativity towards Courtney. The image is somewhat understandable. Courtney was painted as a villain when she punched Queen Kathleen Hanna backstage at a Sonic Youth performance.
Courtney constantly told him she loved him, complimented him and told him he was great. He responded in the same fashion. I have no doubt that it was real, authentic love. I have no idea why it wasn’t enough for him or why having a kid wasn’t enough for him. Thankfully, that didn’t get covered in the film.
The story ends a week before his death and leaves out all the speculation, something I was extremely grateful for. That’s one part of Kurt’s legacy that I’m tired of—People suggesting Courtney killed him, how the fame was too much for him, blah blah blah. It’s boring now. Despite all the speculation, we will never have an animated sequence of his brain telling us why he shot himself. It’s been a long time; it will always be speculation.
But back to the animation—It’s seriously worth going for. There are portions of the movie that are so beautifully animated, that they bring to life the “Montage of Heck” cassette tape he recorded while dating and living with his first girlfriend. We can see him recording them for the first time, because someone drew it. We saw him seduce that slow girl from school, and we saw him leave that threatening message to the journalist from Vanity Fair. It was really something. This movie is as much a work of art as it is a documentary.
Someone has finally done something new with Kurt’s story. That’s why you should go see it. You’ll cry, which has always been my favourite thing about any documentary. It’s shocking, heartbreaking, exciting and so, so real.