Tuesday 19 November 2019

Review: Cobain: Montage of Heck - 'allows cinema-goers an opportunity to enjoy and be entranced by Nirvana all over again'

Tanya Sweeney

Documentary, starring Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Wendy O'Connor, Courtney Love, Kim Cobain, Frances Bean Cobain. Dir: Brett Morgen. Cert 16


Given that Nirvana's career lasted about a half-decade in all, it's not hard to conclude that Kurt Cobain is probably more potent, bankable and iconic in death than in life.

He memorably took his life in April 1994, leaving behind a small but fully formed catalogue of music: music that had fresh, terrible meaning breathed into it anew after his death. He left a legion of fans bereft that year, and I was among their teary, near-hysterical number.

Fast-forward via time's giant wheel to the present day and revisiting Nirvana as a 30-something is a fairly brain-bending experience, to put it mildly.

Nirvana's story is, by now, a careworn one. Fans know the drill inside out: the Geffen signing, the infamous Reading Festival appearance, the Rohypnol overdose in Rome a month before Cobain's death at the age of 27. But the story hasn't been told quite like this.

With Cobain's daughter Frances Bean on board as executive producer, Brett Morgen has been granted access to a mind-boggling archive of material. Crystal-clear home videos from Cobain's childhood, drawings, diaries and home recordings from Cobain's final years create an incredible, vivid, searing narrative.

We listen as Cobain's mother Wendy recalls how she cried as soon as she heard the master tapes for Nevermind: not out of pride or happiness, but out of sheer fear for her tender, sensitive son.

"I was so glad that I wasn't born with the 'genius' brain," reflects Cobain's sister, Kim, before Cobain: Montage of Heck explodes into life to the strains of Territorial P**sings. And so, we start our tale in Aberdeen, where Cobain is a flaxen-haired and blue-eyed cherub.

Slowly, he morphs from a hyperactive youngster to a disenfranchised pre-teen to a feckless, pot-smoking teenager. He falls in love with punk music. We know the rest. This time around however, we watch from the inner sanctum.

Ultimately, Montage of Heck depicts Nirvana less as myth-makers or messiahs and more as three normal and unassuming jokesters who, whether by accident or design, kicked a socio-cultural hornet's nest.

What's so easy to forget was that Cobain and his band of merryish men were actually quite funny and mischievous. Suddenly saddled with the 'spokesman for a generation' tag, the home-video footage captures Cobain as he evades the press and takes the mick out of MTV presenters clearly in thrall to him.

His reaction is not unlike someone quietly watching a horror unfold after pulling a pin from a grenade. As viewing experiences go, it's an uncomfortable one.

Running in tandem with Nirvana's accidental world domination was Cobain's apparent discovery of domestic bliss with his wife, Courtney Love, and baby daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. That picture of marital harmony has been turned over time and time again in the years since, but here, the camera doesn't lie.

Cobain and Love gurn at the camera like love-sick teenagers and positively smother their child in squeaks, squeals, smiles, cuddles and affection.

Cobain's on-camera admissions that he was deathly afraid of losing his tight-knit family is, with the benefit of hindsight, all the more poignant.

There's no doubting that for Nirvana fans, Cobain: Montage of Heck is a massively gratifying experience. But what about everyone else?

Morgen has clearly mounted a quest to make the definitive Cobain documentary, and there is so much material to drink in here. Running at over two hours long, it's certainly an exhaustive account of Cobain's life. The film comes to a very deliberate halt as the account of Cobain's life comes to an end.

Cobain's death is relayed as a post-script, with a single black card. The hysteria that followed April 2014 is, in this case, not for purpose.

By turns compelling and affecting, Cobain: Montage of Heck allows cinema-goers an opportunity to enjoy and be entranced by Nirvana all over again.

Whether you were a die-hard fan or a bystander watching the Nirvana saga unfold at a remove, this HBO documentary will shake you to your ribcage.

But back in the day, Nirvana's spectacular rise and fall made me, and thanks to this film, it may well end up making you, too.

Who is Frances Bean Cobain? 

As Cobain: Montage of Heck releases, here's how to explain grunge rock in three minutes  

Cobain: Montage of Heck - the fan review

Movie Reviews: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Good Kill and Force Majeure 

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