HBO for the past few years has had a very cool way of doing musician biographies, using old footage and interviews, and other direct sources from the people in the spotlight to tell their own stories. I have seen both the Rolling Stones, and Sinatra’s documentaries, but of all of those, Kurt Cobain’s “Montage of Heck” is by far the best, and has the most interesting material to work with (in terms of the life story, not a musical judgment mind you).
Brett Morgen has produced a near masterpiece here, artfully splicing together Cobain’s drawings, journal entries, and old interviews, as well as using Cobain’s music. “It was all there in his music” one of the interviewees states speaking on the subject of why Cobain eventually killed himself.
Cobain’s story is a personal tragedy and a defining cultural moment, although it is too complicated of a subject to cover in this brief review.
This film gives us an exceptional and heartbreaking look as to how all of that tragedy played out as the trajectory of his life is set out before us. The film uses Nirvana’s music, often slowed down instrumental recordings that at first I thought were going to be a bit tacky, but became convinced were beautiful and effective ways to illustrate the above quote about how Cobain used music to channel his overwhelming inability to cope with the outside world.
Cobain hated interviews, and hated providing the obligatory answers reporters would always ask about his music. He preferred to find out what other people thought.
This documentary, like his life, leaves you with more questions than answers at the end, and I for one think that is how he would have liked it.
Combine that thoughtfulness with really awesome animation and mind bending visuals throughout and, even if you’re not a big Cobain fan, and are only culturally interested, this is still something very well worth watching.
Montage of Heck gets a four out of five: GREAT.