No matter who you are, even if you don’t know the people behind the name, it’s a given that you’ve heard of Nirvana, the biggest band in the world at the turn of the 1980’s.
Kurt Cobain’s has been a household name, glamorized for either his attitude or his suicide. In the months after his announced death on April 5, 1994 the world was left starving for answers pertaining to his death, and grieving for more. The world has taken it’s many trips around the sun, but here the middle-aged still stand, strung out on Cobain, reminiscent from the soundtrack to their youth’s.
In the years since his world curdling death there have been mounds of documentaries, books, journals, and mixtapes reaccounting on his life and death. It’s possible that Kurt Cobain has put out more work since he died than when he was ever alive. The legacy of the grunge rocker has been strung out, and only leaving so much behind, there’s not much more left to throw at the public. It’s safe to say that some of the information being published is pervasive and invasive on the secretive star’s life, but the world is still dying to know more.
Montage of Heck takes a more intimate approach at illustrating Kurt’s life through the eyes of the people close to him instead of fan fueled researchers. Being one of the only authorized documentaries to ever be publicized, and assistantly directed by Frances Bean, Cobain’s only child, many of his close friends and immediate family were on board to contribute to the film.
The movie kicks of with a collection of home videos of Kurt as a child accompanied by a narrative by his mother, Wendy O’Connor. She talks in depth about her early relationship with Kurt’s father, who was more of a friend than a lover to her at the beginning of their relationship. It seemed as if it could be a fairy tale until she wanted to have kids and the real love was absent. Don Cobain was a stern man, who was described as never knowing to how handle Kurt. With all of the faults in their marriage, Wanda decided to file for divorce in 1974, which at the time was widely unaccepted by society. At the time Kurt was 7 years old, and up until that point had lived a very normal and happy life.
Don Cobain and his second wife, Jenny, who does most of the talking in their interview, narrate their sons early teen years. Don doesn’t speak much, but his silence says everything in the film. His face emanates a heavy misery and a silent sense of responsibility for Kurt’s sorrow. Kurt felt his parents divorce too deeply, and shortly after the split he was erratic and inconsolable. His mother, unable to handle him, sent him away to live with his father and step mother. Jenny talks reminiscently of Kurt’s undying want to have a normal functioning family, he had it at times, on family game nights and trips, but it was too fleeting to fulfill his mere dream. All he wanted was normalcy, but he pushed it farther and farther away with his horrific behavior.
Cobain bounced between different homes of close family members until it seemed no one wanted to take him in as they grew weary of his attitudes. He was only left to return to his mother. His close family and friends explain that his hypersensitive trigger to embarrassment came from ridicule and rejection deeply rooted in the rejection that came from his father and family.
As the film nears Kurt’s late teens and early twenties the animation picks up at the key point in Kurt’s life, his three year relationship with his first girlfriend, Tracy Marander. Tracy’s made appearances in a few earlier documentaries as well as often answering fan’s questions online over her Twitter. She narrates their three year relationship vaguely, mainly talking about how she loved Kurt so much that she acted more as a nurturing figure than as a girlfriend. By giving him time and space to create music, which equated to him sitting jobless on Tracy’s couch all day.
Tracy told theguardian.com after the release of the album, Montage of Heck, that the mixed tape was made on a two track tape player in 1987 during their time together. The album is a collection of early demos of songs and psychedelic noises collected from TV shows and oddball sounds created by Kurt himself. Tracy added that many copies existed before the album had been published with copyrights because Kurt had given out so many versions of it as it was “great to listen to while tripping out”. The album had actually been available online for years.
Sources from nirvana-legacy.com, a fan based website, created a set of statistics depicting the amount of times vs. the amount of songs created by Kurt while with each of his girlfriends. Interestingly enough, Kurt made most of his songs in Tracy’s house. The majority of Nirvana’s hits were produced before their first album, before they were even famous.
Polar to Tracy Marander nostalgic peroration, Kurt’s last love and wife, Courtney Love appears in the film next. She speaks about Kurt with a preserved vigor that’s been distilled in her personality since the Hole singer appeared to the music scene. Her blatant honesty addressing Kurt’s drug habits and personality is almost disheartening, “Kurt told me he was going to hit 3 million and become a junky”, she concedes. It’s clear there’s still an anger that lives within her over the blindside of her husband’s death and that accusations that she killed him.
Kris Novoselic relays his usual song and dance about the overwhelming anxiety that came with being shot to the top of the billboards in such a short amount of time. Novoselic, tongue tied, explains the band went from being a part of this complete obscurity [Aberdeen] to seeing more people that they had met in their lives in one compresses area. He explains the feeling of wanting to be withdrawn from everything and everyone, and how he had “beer and wine” while kurt had heroine. Most importantly, Kris gives an outside perspective of Kurt’s infatuation with Courtney, sayings that he was so interested in her because they both loved rock n’ roll and drugs.
Montage of Heck doesn’t consist of outsider in the life of the band talking about drug use and suicide. The film illustrates the uglies of heroine with home videos of Courtney and Kurt coming down from after Frances their daughter was born. A real life peek inside. The couples home videos from their relationship are the epitome of the films cringe-worthy, dark, and near disturbing material that make you realize that drug use and suicide are not beautiful hazy things. The film is so raw it’s disturbing. The scene feels like it lasts a lifetime, but never feels unnecessary or sensationalized.
Buzz Osborne, manager of The Melvins, a close friend of Kurt’s says that Montage of Heck is a bunch of bullshit to the Rolling Stones Magazine, but expresses an appreciation for the animations of Kurt and how the movie depicts Aberdeen as “the sh*t hole it really is”. Unfortunately, half of the substance in the film came from Tim Appelo’s collection of Kurt’s doodles, diary entries, and other odd ball notebook material of Kurt’s, Journals, with the additional words from his close families mouth’s.
A fan of Nirvana says, “I can’t bring myself to listen to the Kurt Cobain Home Recordings album. He was driven to his end not only by addiction and mental illness but by people analyzing every little thing he said, pretending to know his intentions. He repeatedly said he was just a musician and not the spokesman for a generation. Years after he could take no more of what “super fans” and media did to him (in addition to his own illnesses), we continue to scrutinize and interpret every word, deify a man who wanted no part of it and eat up every glimpse into his private life that we can steal. If my crappy bedroom demos were released to the public I’d be horrified. This music was never meant to be heard, and it feels like an invasion of privacy. I can’t do it. The public just wants more and more Kurt, so much that they scavenge every scrap that is left of him. Kurt says in an interview during the movie “Yeah, we’ll probably make some more good music. It’s not even about the fame, it’s about the art”. To him it was only about the music, it was never about the fame.
Montage of Heck probably won’t be the last documentary about Nirvana or Kurt Cobain, but it feels like a closing to something. It seems like Courtney finally allowed the publication and finally spoke directly at the loss of Kurt to set the record straight. To make clear, the blurred lines of her own feelings that the world saw. Even if making her final point meant exposing their relationships guts. After all of the passed years it seems Courtney, with the world following soon after her, can say goodbye to the legacy that was Kurt Cobain.