I came out of that cinema on the verge of tears. Just as I had been for the last half hour watching Montage of Heck, willing myself not to burst out crying. I went straight into the toilets, checked I looked half-normal, turned on my iPod and walked to the tram stop. I had been on one of my Panic! At The Disco benders but I couldn’t listen to them after that. I couldn’t listen to Nirvana either, I had to listen to Hole. I listened to the songs Courtney Love wrote on the album that was released after the birth of her child, after his death. There was no choice but to be eased, slowly, out of this feeling. Listening to Nirvana over and over would have helped keep me there.
I did not grow up in the late eighties/early nineties to be a fan of Nirvana in their heyday. I can’t even know for sure I’d like them. My friends and School of Rock (2003) are who I have to thank for what my music taste eventually turned into (and thank goodness for that). But nevertheless, as a teenager, as teenagers before and after me will continue to do so, I found Nirvana and proceeded to call them my second favourite band for a few years before I inevitably out-grew what mid-teen rebellion I had in me.
So as a Nirvana fan and a burgeoning movie fan, you can imagine I’ve put a big dent in the hundreds and thousands of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain documentaries there are out there. There was that one with GV shots of his home town Aberdeen, and an extensive interview with Kurt accompanied the visuals. Only upon googling it do I remember the name: About a Son (2006). Then you’ve got the factual BBC documentaries and history of rock music specials that move from Led Zeppelin to David Bowie to Nirvana to Blink 182 in the space of 60 minutes. Pretty factual, pretty mellow, most of it sub-par stuff.
All of them reinforce the cheap headline journalism that Kurt seemed to mock frequently. As far as docs go, none have really tried to get inside the mind of Kurt and really create an audio-visual experience that would allow his fans to get a deeper understanding of the kind of person he was and go deeper than the “he was troubled, he got famous, he couldn’t handle it, Courtney made it worse… The end” narrative we’ve all heard before.
For me, Montage of Heck was split into three intertwining sections. The first, recounts from his family, from Courtney, from Krist (Grohl’s interview was conducted too late to make it into the film but I hope to see a later version with him included) and a former girlfriend. The second is archive footage and home videos of Kurt throughout his life. And finally the art work, the sound bites, the notes, private scribblings and animated re-workings that play such a key role in representing Kurt’s mental state throughout his life that has been sorely missing in all of the previous attempts to give this guy’s life any justice.
It is the first documentary that has the backing of his family, with Frances even being an Executive Producer. I love that, but having watched the film I also can’t believe it. I recall Kurt holding up his not-yet-1-year-old daughter whilst Courtney gives Frances her first haircut. Kurt can’t keep his eyes open. Courtney makes a “you’re high, aren’t you?” comment. I feel like I’m watching the world’s slowest car crash yet I’m powerless to stop it. The camera is focused on Frances but the harsh lighting frequented in home movies draws attention to the greasy hair, the sores and the skinny muscle definition of her father. Just half an hour earlier we saw the cutest guy in grunge smiling into the camera, soft blonde hair covering half of his face, and now he can’t even hold up his own daughter.
Cut to another scene of the Cobains sharing a bath together. Courtney is holding Frances and she states that she’s happy. Cue Kurt’s half-hearted response and tears in my eyes. Courtney is telling Frances how her dad is better than everyone in music, better than Bob Dylan, even. He proceeds to do an excellent mocking impression of Bob Dylan, my own musical idol, and I can’t hold it in any longer. All the drawings, the intimate scribblings and the haunting lyrics of this beautiful and destructive mind were all leading up to this moment for me. It’s widely thought that the MTV live album stage was made to look like a funeral and you notice it now more than ever. Team that with Nirvana’s rendition of “Where did you sleep last night?” by Leadbelly and your heart will break.
I’m by far not the biggest Nirvana fan in the world, I controversially listen to Hole nowadays 10 times more than I do Nirvana. But if the film affected me this much, I can’t imagine what it might do to an actual Nirvana fan. I got on the tram, went home, got in bed and preceded to watch Parks & Recreation for 2 hours until I got out of my mood and then I went to sleep. Thank goodness for Kurt, but thank goodness for Amy Poehler too.