by Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass
The Kurt Cobain biographical documentary Montage Of Heck is headed for HBO on Monday, May 4th, 2015. I was lucky enough to get a look at it at the ArcLight Hollywood Dome theatre, in Hollywood, California, one of my favorite places to see a movie. Unfortunately most of the film’s imagery was kind of lost on the magisterial huge curved screen, since it was largely made of archival footage from the period 1967-1994. However, the footage filmed for the doc looked awesome, and the incredible sound system of the theatre made the music rock as hard as it should. You’d better have good speakers hooked up to your TV when you watch this, because this documentary should be played LOUD.
Much of this new footage was animated. One of the things Cobain left behind him when he committed suicide in 1994 were a copious amount of journals, written in theme books. They were brought to life in animation by Portland, OR animator Stefan Nadelman, taking sketches and writings and making them come to life. And some incidents in Cobain’s brief life were also animated, by Dutch animator Hisko Hulsing.
The Hulsing animation combines hand drawn, cel-animated, classical animation with moody oil-painted backgrounds, conjuring up the rainy gloom of the Pacific Northwest and the bleakness of life in a fading old logging town with nothing to offer its young residents but subsistence jobs and boredom. To escape the bleakness, you either self-medicate with booze, weed and other drugs, or you get creative. In the case of Cobain and his small circle of friends, you do both. A lot.
Some of the animations are done with actual archival recordings of Cobain, and one of the most impressive animated sequences shows Cobain writing one of his songs, using as its track the tape on which Cobain was actually composing the song.
Much of the film is very close to the bone, and is likely to make you squirm in your seat because of its scary intimacy. Particularly when it comes to Cobain’s marriage to Courtney Love,* and their early life together with their child Frances Bean Cobain. In spite of Kurt Cobain’s ambivalence about fame and about talking about himself, he shot hours and hours of video during his marriage, vlogging before the Internet even emerged from academia. Some of this vlog footage makes it into the documentary.
Is this a hard movie to watch? You betcha. You already know how it ends. Kurt’s mom mentions how her first listen to the rough mix of Nevermind moved her to tears, not from pride or love, but from absolute terror. As she put it, “I said, buckle up, Kurt, because you are NOT ready for this.” She knew that if Cobain became famous — and for a brief couple of years he was incredibly famous — he was doomed. You wish that the story could change, that he’d clean up, that he’d find out what exactly was going on with his gastrointestinal problems that he had for most of his life, and that we’d still have him now, alive and creating, in whatever direction his prodigious talents would take him. But we know how the story ends. And it’s tragic.
HBO Docs official trailer for Montage Of Heck http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw5nZeptzEU
Montage Of Heck tape audio collage by Kurt Cobain (long version) heard in the film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZMrzdR2lzU
More about the animations here.
*Obligatory disclaimer: Ms. Love is the co-creator of TOKYOPOP manga series Princess Ai.