Despite twenty years passing since his suicide, Kurt Cobain’s musical influence and tenacity is still argued and debated by many of music’s biggest artists today. As the frontman for Nirvana he helped usher in a sweeping musical revolution that banished spandex-clad rock to the sidelines, reinvigorating rock radio and MTV with electrifying performances and becoming a cultural icon. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck attempts to document the man behind the music and his lasting inspiration; one need not look farther than Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighter-frontman Dave Grohl (who was interviewed, but not used for the purpose of this documentary).
Montage of Heck, the term coming from Cobain’s own cassette collages, deftly shies away from the time of his suicide and aftermath, and instead places the focus on his teenage and young adult years intermingled with the usual angst, pot experimentation, and lament for the traditional form. Employed by a masterful job of editing and narrative selection, Joe Beshenkovsky and Mr. Morgen use a deluge of sound clips, super-8 segments, art pieces and journal entries to paint their picture of a firebrand lost in translation. A mind with seemingly endless creative energy and no one-way to release it, Montage of Heck is very carefully structured to give what Joe and Mr. Morgan think is the real story behind Cobain’s demise.
Despite unfettered access to new journal entries and clips of Cobain and his family, there aren’t that many new surprises to be found here. New journal entries give more clues to Cobain’s self-shame and depression before and after his substance abuse problem surfaced, and his withheld resentment toward his father due to his parents’ early divorce remains one of his strongest vindications of pursuing the punk-rock scene. The montage of quick cuts overlaying popular Nirvana hits are a nice touch, but do little to further the already established point that even at his most famous, Cobain was lost.
The romance and marriage to Courtney Love is retread ground, but Love’s interview does give a much needed personal touch to their complicated relationship. She does not back away from speaking on their weaker moments of marital dispute and their new daughter, but one particular video sequence solidifies Cobain’s love for her and his wife, but is also the clearest picture of Cobain’s fight between being the father his never could be against battling the inner demons looking to prove him wrong.
Like a relic from a lost generation, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck does give a fascinating, albeit heavily edited, look into the mind of a man that helped shape a new frontier of musical expression. Lacking in new information, Morgan and Beshenkovsky do not argue some new theory or look to tie everything together; rather, they craft a sort of swan song for a short-lived icon whose legacy continues to inspire musicians today – and likely will for generations.