Is Montage too intimate?
by Rob Rector
The life (and tragic death) of Kurt Cobain has certainly been well documented, from books (“Come as You Are,” “Who Killed Kurt Cobain?,” “Heavier Than Heaven”) to films (Kurt & Courtney, Last Days, About A Son) to songs (50 Cent’s “A Baltimore Love Thing,” Neil Young’s “Sleeps With Angels”). The latest Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (available on demand) promises to be the definitive documentary on the musician, featuring interviews with his family and friends, a copious amount of personal writings, pictures and intimate videos that provide an all-access glimpse into the troubled soul.
But just because we have “all access” doesn’t mean we should, especially considering it was the intrusion of media into all aspects of his life that perhaps precipitated his premature death.
Don’t get me wrong, you will walk away from Montage with a much more intimate portrayal of the Nirvana frontman, but I could not shake the feeling that there were some things that were not meant for my eyes, no matter how much I idolized the musician.
Just like many a youth at the cusp on the 90s, Nirvana had a profound impact on me, having been given a cassette copy of “Bleach” before they were to explode onto the mainstream with the iconic “Nevermind,” the following year. I can photographically recall the announcement of his death in 1994, not long after the airing of the band’s “Unplugged” performance on MTV.
Of course, it took years to fully appreciate just what was lost, but as someone who appreciated (and even identified) with the songs that so succinctly summed up fear, isolation and rage of being a youth in that time, the fact that we would not hear another song from Cobain’s distinct, awkward growl was heartbeaking.
We will never understand the ultimate reason as to why Cobain decided to end it all, but we are certainly given a number of reasons that may have contributed to his mental state. Director Brett Morgen was provided notes, cassette recordings, diary entries, early home movies and even a number of personal videos shot by then-wife Courtney Love the two shot around their home during their drug-induced heyday.
Some of it is superfluous, most of it is fascinating, and much of it just seems intrusive. I say this as a fan, but witnessing the latter-day videos he and Love shot in which Cobain mumbles in a seeming heroin-laced stupor just felt far too personal, even in the “selfie” age in which we now live.
It’s obvious Morgen wished to paint as detailed a portrait as possible, and he has certainly succeeded. For within its two-plus hour runtime, Cobain is taken from his rock-god altar and shown as a vulnerable, sensitive and conflicted youth whose outlet is his writing and, eventually, his guitar. For the most of its runtime, “
Montage successfully deconstructs the legend without tarnishing him in the process.
But within its final act, after the crush of sudden fame crashes to his shore, he retreats with Love into what they perceive to be some sort of drug-addled domesticity, and they keep their own cameras rolling throughout. Love comes across not as the demonized she-devil she had so often been portrayed in the press at the time, but an equally troubled companion to Cobain, who is also dealing with her own issues and struggling for normalcy while under the microscope. And when they bring a daughter (Frances Bean, who serves as executive producer of the film) into the mix, the film turns into a voyeuristic sideshow that perhaps a family like the Kardashians would be more than happy to package and sell to the tabloids, but knowing public scrutiny was one of the main sources of Cobain’s angst, it becomes downright uncomfortable.
It’s a riveting, revealing portrait and one deserved of it various narrative and technical praises. One just wishes the end was not an embodiment of exactly what fueled the genius to retreat from the world and expedite his premature end in the first place.