Cobain: Montage of Heck (4 stars)

Cobain: Montage of Heck

The late Nirvana frontman is the subject of an eye-opening documentary

This authorised but nevertheless raucous documentary builds a complex and impressively detailed picture of the Nirvana frontman's life, while stopping short of directly addressing his death. It brings together home movies, photos, the talking heads of Kurt Cobain's nearest and dearest, music videos, gigs, and animates drawings and extracts from his sketchbooks and diaries. Add in the looming tragedy of the musician's 1994 demise and it's almost exhausting.

Given the persistent interest in demystifying Cobain, writer-director Brett Morgen (Crossfire Hurricane) has in many ways assembled a rock doc to rival them all. The music remains as raw as it gets, the access to those close to Cobain is extraordinary (his parents, sister, former girlfriend, widow Courtney Love and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic all appear). But it's the clips provided by the family that are something else; we watch as the angelic tot grows into a troubled teen, before the man who channelled his anguish into songs which spoke to and defined a generation begins to emerge.

Love answers her critics, those who accused her of being a corrupting influence on Cobain, in typically perverse style, with astonishingly intimate, self-filmed footage which shows them as a besotted pair of kindred spirits, a chaotic, comedic double-act, deep in drugged-up love. Moreover, the film as a whole paints Cobain as a long-term self-medicator, someone whose hyper-sensitivity, inability to shake his adolescent anger and chronic health problems meant mere existence was painful. Videos of the couple caring for their child, however, are both charming and deeply provocative; one or both are often visibly addled.

The documentary is suitably flanked by Nirvana's music, in its original form and with instrumental covers reflecting the film's varying moods. Humour comes from the band's refusal to play ball in promotional interviews; they're entertainingly mischievous and their disrespect for the process is all the more fun for how rare it is today.

Cobain: Montage of Heck boasts plenty of imagination and energy but at times it feels like Morgen has overdone the furious collaging, without realising the true value of the interviewees' input, or just how potent the family's archive material is. More time with participants and less animated interludes would have made for a better, more powerful balance. Ultimately it's a film that didn't need this many bells and whistles for it to pack an almighty punch.

Selected release from Fri 10 Apr.

Cobain: Montage of Heck

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 2h 12min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Brett Morgen
  • Written by: Brett Morgen
  • Cast: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic
  • UK release: 10 April 2015

Documentary about the Nirvana frontman, mixing home movie footage, music videos, talking heads of his nearest and dearest and animated drawings from his sketchbooks. Full of insight, imagination and energy, but the furious collaging is sometimes exhausting; with fewer bells and whistles it would have had even more impact.