Cobain: Montage of Heck

The authorized documentary on late Guitar/lead singer Kurt Cobain from his early days in Aberdeen Washington to his success and downfall with Grunge band Nirvana.

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  • ★★★★★ review by Ryan Narc on Letterboxd

    I've been a Nirvana fan for as long as I can remember. They've been my favorite band ever since I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and immediately asked my one uncle to lend me each of their albums, and I would sit around in my bedroom blaring them one after another. From Bleach to MTV Unplugged in New York and every other live album along with the With the Lights Out box-set in between, I would consistently listen to each song, one after another, as if I couldn't possibly get enough. So when I first read about a new documentary making it's rounds at film festivals that included unreleased material from Cobain, I nearly died. I couldn't wait to see it for myself after reading all of the rave reviews. So I pre-ordered the U.K. Blu-ray release, seeing as the U.S. version won't be released until November, and eagerly waited every day for it to turn up in the mail.

    After finally getting to experience Montage of Heck for myself, I couldn't be more satisfied. This was the rockumentary on Kurt I was hoping for. Director Brett Morgen did an amazing job in utilizing all of the footage and materials to the best of his and their abilities. I feel like it's pretty much everything a Kurt Cobain/Nirvana fan would want to see in a documentary on the subject - and not only what fans wanted to see, but needed to see to further understand this tortured soul. What we have here is a deeply affecting, devastatingly personal portrait of an incredibly talented man who was gone way too soon.

    Morgen chose the perfect moment to bring the film to a close, which is Nirvana's performance of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" at their Unplugged show. Just perfection. I couldn't be more appreciative for this film and will most definitely revisit it again and again.

  • ★★★★★ review by Jay Cheel on Letterboxd

    Outside of a few missing voices -- Dave Grohl in particular, not that I really felt the need to hear from him -- Montage of Heck is a pretty complete package. Brett Morgen seems more interested in telling the story of a person rather than the story of a band, and that's fine by me.

    I thought I'd have an issue with the animation in the film, but it was very well executed and resulted in one of my favourite sequences (the 4-track songwriting montage). It's amazing how much of this story is told through notebooks and journals, and the additional animation certainly helped sell that narrative tactic (which reminded me of the animated sketches in The Devil and Daniel Johnston).

    Also, all of the footage of Kurt and Courtney was appropriately gross and unsettling. Oh, and where the film ends is perfect.

    It's pretty amazing watching such an accomplished (Is that the right word? Celebrated? I'm not sure.) life flash before you in just over two hours only to come to an abrupt end. Certainly makes you realize how fleeting everything is.

  • ★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd

    Lots of terrific candid footage and photos here, set to songs I have a lot of fondness for. As a vaguely authorized biodoc it may not be particularly revelatory but it's thankfully more interesting than your usual batch of stills and talking heads. The music is still really powerful (to me, anyway), and it completely carries this.

  • ★★★★★ review by Jane Firehorse on Letterboxd

    when i first heard the album nevermind in 1991, i played it over and over and OVER again, for weeks! it really did change everything; i lived it and i loved it. then i went back to bleach, and then to insecticide and then in utero... all of them, i loved. the anger in kurt's voice, the black humour in his lyrics, those beautiful melodies and the raw intensity of those beats: i had not heard anything like it for such a long time, if ever before. it was absolutely amazing: a musical moment for the ages that woke people up and moved me deeply.

    the day kurt died, i stayed in bed. people tiptoed quietly around.

    thankfully i did see nirvana live in january 1994 and since then i've read almost everything i could get my hands on about the band and/or kurt cobain himself.

    needless to say, i was very much looking forward to seeing "montage of heck" so i dragged my husband and son to a screening that ended at 1:00 am, and i'm so pleased to say, it did not disappoint.

    witnessing all those home movies when kurt was a child or when kurt & courtney became a couple is both heartbreaking and hilarious. contrary to superficial media reportage, cobain was not simply an angst ridden rock star; he was a super funny, multitalented guy. the film animates his outrageous and intricate art, also including original animation to accompany taped personal accounts of growing up that are narrated by kurt himself. these are cut with live footage and other appropriately bizarre imagery, which combine to make something very much like the mixed tape the film is named after: a "montage of heck."

    director brett morgan (with the whole-hearted support of producer frances bean cobain) has made an exceptional film, something that any fan of this band, or any fan of documentary film-making in general, should see. it's just spectacular: warm, hilarious, horrific, angry, gothic, loud, beautiful, shocking, sublime - this film shows us everything that kurt cobain was.

    if you can, see it big and see it l-o-u-d!

  • ★★★★ review by Terése Flynn on Letterboxd

    Suitably, I took my first pill of Oxazepam (Sobril, we call it over here) in four years before watching this documentary, a documentary about a man that personified a whole generations' teenage angst. A generation I almost fit into, getting into grunge at the age of nine in 1993. I made my mother buy me a lumberjack shirt I could wear on my class photo. I loved the record Core by Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana's Bleach, especially the track Big Cheese. I adored Jeff Ament and thought that Alice in Chains had the coolest music videos. With this said, I've never been a die hard fan of any musical artist, not even Kurt Cobain. So you could say that I expected to be given some insight on this nostalgic journey, and I did. Maybe to much insight. Because Cobain: Montage of Heck has such a enormous amount of personal material that it feels shameful watching this documentary at times. Which reminded me of why I've never been into idol worship in the first place.

    But let's be totally honest, isn't this what we want from any documentary?. It must be more people than me that are tired of those documentaries that have the same kind of set-up. The same kind of interviews from experts and people who knew the person, with some short clips here and there with some real footage or/and reenactments. And don't forget the sad strings or piano music in the ending, when the subject of the documentary is getting his/hers final salute. Sure, Cobain: Montage of Heck also include some of these typical documentary ingredients, but it's all very skillfully and artistically put together. And even though it stumbles into tribute territory, it soon finds its way back again on a more honest path.

    I'm tempted to continue this review with a hobby psychoanalysis write-up, with some personal experiences weaved into it. But I won't. But the thing is that if I had known more about Kurt Cobain as a teenager, not leaving my grungier side for the sake of the hardcore punk scene, I would've probably had a celebrity to relate to. A dead celebrity, but still. And with this said, I understand now, more than ever, how it came to be that Nirvana became such a giant success all over the world.

    Ps: Glad about the lack of enormous amount of Courtney bashing in this one. Enough of that already.

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