My Inevitable Reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

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.

My Inevitable Reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck |
© HBO Docs

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.

My Inevitable Reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck |
© HBO Docs

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.

My Inevitable Reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck |
© Courtesy of Sundance Institute

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.

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My Inevitable Reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck |


I'm the human and hair behind Almost Ginger. I'm a cinephile travel obsessive vegetarian currently residing in Manchester.

2 thoughts on “My Inevitable Reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

  • May 5, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Well spoken. Something which may also help or let you gain composure is watching “About A Son” from 2007 where all the interviews are in Kurt’s words (recorded by michael azerrad). After that, try to watch Montage of Heck again – you will cry a little less. At least, I did. I’ve been re-dipping into Hole especially the 1998–1999 tour footage and tour for which Courtney gets very little credit but delivers the goods a ever show. She is playing on May 20 in my area but since she is opening for Lana Del Rey the resale ticket prices are insanely overpriced, 5 times that of McCartney tickets. I might just wander around the venue and see if I can hear Courtney. Montage of Heck made me mostly want to see Courtney. I was ‘into’ Hole before Nirvana,…. rather,…. I was into Hole and at some point realized “oh, that’s who she married,…” The pain of it all has increased over time which is very strange because at that time I was oblivious probably due to lack of TV etc. It still hurts. Some people can not be saved; it is a sad and awful truth. I actually was offended at the interview given by Wendy (Kurt’s Mom). For some reason I don’t believe for one second that he went home and played her the master tape of Nevermind and that she would have the where-with-all to comment to him as she claims in the film. But Frances approved all content, so I have to go with Frances’ judgement. She is satisfied with the result of 8 years of work – so that is seal of approval enough for me. The film is for Frances. But “About A Son” is still worth watching to hear Kurt without the graphics and the journals or the animation or other people being interviews, it’s pure.

    • May 5, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Yeah, it has been years since I watched About a Son, and I do think it’s one I should go back to, but I wouldn’t say that just because it’s just Kurt talking and it’s very stripped back with out a lot of bells and whistles like Montage of Heck that it’s in some way more truthful or a better way of telling his story, there’s no way anyone can know that. And the footage used in About a Son I feel is a bit of an odd film making choice, like Kurt’s going back to his roots in some way, I don’t know… I probably have to watch it again but it just seems odd to me. And like you say, it really was a film for Frances and obviously a story she wanted to tell, that’s probably why I ‘trust’ the content more because it so obviously isn’t gonna be good for a daughter to watch. I’ve seen Courtney live before and I’m really pleased I have done, I have no clue what draws me to her!


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