Cobain: Montage of Heck review – a poignant authorised documentary

With hindsight and a trove of home movies, this hefty film is able to show the whole arc of Kurt Cobain’s life – from sensitive, talented child to sensitive, talented rock star

A scary photo was recently circulating online (presumably genuine) showing what the swimming-pool baby on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind now looks like: a grown man. Kurt Cobain’s death was now a generation ago, which gives some perspective to this hefty authorised docu-pic, with its huge and slightly indigestible trove of home movies and home video material. Most of Cobain’s family and colleagues are interviewed – with the prominent exceptions of daughter Frances, who is credited as an executive producer, and drummer Dave Grohl. 

The arc of Cobain’s life is clearly drawn: the hyperactive, hypersensitive, talented child of a broken home, who poured out his pain into drawings and notebooks. The discovery of punk was like a religious epiphany. Cobain compiled dozens of demo tapes (one called Montage of Heck) and dedicated himself to rock glory, but the ascent to fame ran in tandem with escalating drug use. Self-medicating attempts to conquer chronic intestinal spasms with heroin led him into addictive co-dependency with his wife, Courtney Love, without alleviating his stomach pains in the slightest. There was vertiginous horror at suddenly becoming the biggest rock star in the world, and, poignantly, Cobain was finding a kind of happiness as a husband and father at the same time. Frustratingly, the film never properly discusses the most important subject: Cobain’s music – the extraordinary self-harming, self-dramatising rage in that gravelly voice that seductively switched from a roar to a plaintive murmur of devastatingly catchy tunefulness. It’s a real 90s time-capsule.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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