COBAIN STORY SPOT ON
Kurt Cobain’s widow says she wouldn’t change a thing about Montage of Heck, even though the confronting documentary is raw at times
Courtney Love doesn’t come out of the new Kurt Cobain documentary Montage Of Heck in a particularly flattering light. That made director Brett Morgen nervous when Love eventually saw the finished product of the film she had no editorial control over.
“I was horrified to show her the film because I didn’t think she came out looking so great,” Morgen says.
“She didn’t bother to see it until it was completely finished. But when she saw the film, she didn’t have a single note she wanted to change.”
Love had given Morgen unprecedented access to the holy grail for Nirvana fans – the keys to the storage facility holding all the art Cobain created in his life, from music to paintings, sound collages to journals and hours of candid home video footage.
Morgen’s CV includes the acclaimed Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane and The Kid Stays in the Picture, about filmmaker Robert Evans.
“Courtney gave me the greatest gift anybody’s ever bestowed on me professionally, which was trust,” Morgen says. “She gave me access to all of Kurt’s possessions and told me to go make the film I wanted to make.”
Indeed, after watching the film privately with 22-year-old daughter Frances Bean sitting in her lap, three days later Love watched it again when it premiered at Sundance – she wanted to see it with an audience. A week later at the Berlin Film Festival Morgen offered to take Love out for dinner while the movie screened before they returned for a Q & A session.
“Courtney said ‘No, I want to watch it again. I want to spend some time with Kurt tonight’. She told me it’s the closest she’s been to Kurt since he died.”
He’s spent an extended period of time with Love and just as his movie busts myths about Cobain, he’s seen a side of Courtney few get to experience.
“Courtney’s had a really bad rap,” he says. “I think it’s time people start re-examining Courtney and rethinking this whole thing. She’s an aggressive, intense woman. There’s a lot of gender politics at play.”
Frances Bean Cobain, now a visual artist, is the film’s executive producer, but Morgen says that after an initial conversation about the film’s tone, she was also handsoff.
“We were in synch,” Morgen says. “Neither of us were interested in spinning a rose-tinted Disneyfied version of Kurt. I showed her the film when it was finished, she told me not to touch a frame.”
The home videos are some of the most revealing moments in Montage Of Heck. One is particularly harrowing – a drug-addled Cobain nodding off as he was trying to hold his baby daughter while Love attempted to cut their child’s hair for the first time.
At their private screening, Love cried and apologised to her daughter as they watched.
“It was an essential piece of film that helped show the depths of his struggles,” Morgen says. “It wasn’t just like watching a junkie nodding off in the corner of a room. In that same shot, you saw the struggle he had between his addiction and his desire to be a doting father. You could see that he’s actually beginning to lose the battle.
“For 25 years, Kurt’s been associated with heroin but it’s often romanticised. There’s a lot of people who don’t do heroin because they know Kurt did heroin. It wasn’t like I went into the film thinking I had to reveal what he was like on heroin, it’s just that when I saw the footage, it was haunting. It’s terrible to look at, I don’t want to see it, but it’s life and it’s honest and it’s not pleasant to look at but at the same time, it’s an important and integral part of a film on Kurt.”
The film features interviews with Cobain’s family, friends and band mates (Dave Grohl was unavailable) interspersed with stop motion animation of Cobain’s drawings, as well as passages narrated in his voice (from interview footage) and unreleased Cobain sound collages and acoustic recordings.
While Morgen will not do a longer director’s cut of the film, a soundtrack with unheard Cobain solo recordings and a companion book with full transcript of all interviews used in the film are both being released.
Montage of Heck
executive producer Frances Bean Cobain, Courtney Love and director/writer/producer Brett Morgen.