Netflix UK film review: Cobain: Montage of Heck
Sheer musical awesomeness10
Ian Loring | On 27, Apr 2015Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Brett Morgen
Cast: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic
Watch Cobain: Montage of Heck online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
It feels like there has been a very long road getting to this point. With all the tears, recriminations and career reinventions of the people around Kurt Cobain, the idea of an officially authorised documentary about the man even being released is somewhat surprising. However, with input from band mate Krist Novoselic, and with ex-wife Courtney Love and daughter Francis Bean listed as Executive Producer, Montage of Heck is as legitimate a documentary as we are ever going to get. What also helps is its inherently cinematic nature.
It’s very rare to say that you should see a documentary on as large and as quality a home cinema setup as possible but that truly is the case here. While Montage of Heck features a fair amount of your standard issue talking head interviews and archive footage (some of which was shot on film and still looks terrific over 20 years on), writer/director Brett Morgen has also used his unparalleled access into Cobain’s personal archives to portray what seems to be a glimpse inside his mind’s eye, combining frank recordings of Cobain talking about his life, disturbing audio soundscapes and imagery both real and artificial to make a disturbing world where you don’t want to stay for long, but the experience certainly hammers you.
The imagery in these sections is of particular interest, as it both animates drawings Cobain had made and also presents a style very similar to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, where he is given animated life, his words being spoken by what looks to be a rotoscoped version of himself; we see him both try to create his art and, at one point, attempt to kill himself, the animated form jarring with this in an intended and upsetting way.
“Upsetting” is an appropriate word to describe much of the film, that much is obvious, but as well as the style, Morgen also digs at this in an empathetic way. Footage of Cobain playing with his young daughter is both sweet and also tragic, the obvious love he had for her palpably showing from their first interaction. Morgen contrasts this with Cobain’s intensely troubled childhood and with the knowledge of what we know is to come, lending the whole thing a melancholy pallor, which is hard to shake off after.
The film isn’t a total success, though. The film’s repeated use of almost nursery rhyme-style versions of Nirvana songs over archive footage feels uninspired and frankly lazier than the rest of it. This is also not a film to go to, if you want to see Cobain’s actions questioned; Montage of Heck has a reverential tone, which does feel appropriate but is not all that incisive. A key component of this is the fact that the film’s timeline ends before Cobain’s death and there is no discussion at all of the events of that period or after. This may not be a surprise, given its official status, but it does feel somewhat lacking.
Nonetheless, Montage of Heck is essential viewing for fans of Nirvana and music documentaries in general, with its cinematic edge lending a visceral impact, even if it’s not quite as well-rounded as you may want.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.