So much has been said about Nirvana – and the tragic end of the indomitable Kurt Cobain – since the frontman’s death in 1994 that this documentary almost seems too late, too familiar and maybe irrelevant. Add the fact that an absence of interviews with Dave Grohl (Nirvana’s Drummer) make the documentary feels somewhat incomplete and you have the setup to what could be a waste of time and a mess of a tribute.
Yet, this comprehensive archive of the Rockstar’s life is both personal and unflinching in its portrayal of Cobain. The 132 minute documentary charts everything from early diary entries detailing an early suicide attempt and sexual encounters to intimate family footage of his family life with wife and child Courtney and Frances. It certainly feels like a autobiography, sometimes uncomfortably revealing stories and thoughts about Kurt are showcased in his diary entries and the Montages of the title. But the balance is perfectly found; animations, drawings and archive footage meld the interviews together and Nirvana songs (both reimagined and original) accompany these sometimes morbid, disturbing and haunting pictures.
Although the story of the band which became “the spokesman for a generation” is familiar to many, the detail is so exhaustive here that die hard fans will find as much as those who’ve only scratched the surface of Nirvana’s history and back catalogue. To an extent all the standard “stories” are there: the Reading gig which Kurt famously turned up in a wheelchair, the drug addled marriage to Courtney Love, the explosion of fame after the release of Nevermind and, of course, Kurt’s eventual suicide. But the story is told in a way which somehow justifies another telling, it feels more like a pyscho-analytical look into the mind of this disturbed and – let’s face it – mentally ill genius than a documentary. For that it deserves the utmost credit, because despite being a fan of Nirvana for years (the first album I ever bought was Nirvana’s debut Bleach) somehow I’d never really registered the extent to which Kurt’s mind was crumbling in front his fans and trickling into his music. This documentary isn’t eye opening in the sense that it tells us something we didn’t already know but it is compelling in that it brings to the fore what is sometimes forgotten; Kurt Cobain wasn’t just a rock and roll prodigy who happened to have a rough personal life but someone who had suffered from a serious mental illness for what appears to be most of his tragically short life.
It may not be telling any new stories, but Cobain: Montage of Heck tells the story in a refreshing and insightful way. The ticking mind of Cobain is uncovered like a watch exposed and the insides are often disturbing and touching but always incredibly engaging. A must see for Nirvana fans and all music lovers.