SXSW Film Review: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

The late Nirvana rocker up close and personal. Bring a hankie.

There’s been no shortage of Nirvana-centric books, films, and posthumous music released in the 16 years since Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Brett Morgen’s doc magically captures something few rock docs convey: the heart and soul, the very essence of their subject.

Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) opens the film with, fittingly, a montage of 1950’s pop cultural ephemera: Herk Harvey ghouling about in Carnival of Souls morphs into a happy-family dinner table scene from Leave It to Beaver while a television advert trumpets the ecstatic joy to be had from a garishly hued dream kitchen. It’s all a clever setup: Cobain’s early life was anything but a Better Homes and Gardens spread. And then suddenly there’s a 6-year-old Cobain; framed by blond locks and grinning like a cherub, he appears angelically fragile. There’s little indication of the woe to come.

Less a traditional music documentary than a melancholy tone poem about this singularly tragic rock & roll icon, Morgen interweaves previously unseen childhood footage (almost all of it in gloriously evocative Super 8) with ingeniously rotoscoped animations, interviews with friends, family, and bandmate Krist Novoselic, and then sets the whole thing against a sonic backdrop of recordings of Cobain discussing his early life as an emotionally sensitive artist, painter, writer, and musician who was overflowing with both an all-encompassing love and a self-devouring inchoate rage. And then came the fame and Cobain, swerving from grunge icon to confused and overwhelmed victim of his own success, loses the plot. We know how it ends. “Who are you?” is the recurring question posed throughout, and when a tiny little blond boy resplendent in his birthday party finest proudly answers “I am Kurt Cobain,” your heart swells and there’s a lump in your throat. The poor little towhead never stood a chance.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

24 Beats Per Second
Friday, March 20, 6:45pm, Satellite Venue: Marchesa
Saturday, March 21, 11am, Stateside

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SXSW Film, Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck, Brett Morgen, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, SXSW Film 2015

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