The cultural phenomenon that is Nirvana is one that is familiar to most these days. But still, theres some sort of uncomfortable intimacy one gets watching childhood videos of one’s personal teen idol. As footage of a young Kurt begins rolling, a version of “All Apologies” that sounds like it’s coming out of a music box starts playing alongside it. This pairing of footage and music, alongside so many other examples, provides underlying messages without being to preachy. It’s almost like Nirvana’s music was made for a documentary, which is kind of a creepy idea.
As the film goes into the stardom of Cobain and Nirvana, it becomes less a documentary about the band and members. Rather it becomes a critique about fame and the shortcomings that follow it. As Cobain in one of the many interviews he’s forced into, “People who are famous don’t do anything and become reclusive. That sucks.”
But the irony to this entire film is how voyeuristic ‘Montage of Heck’ is on a band that criticized this sort of press frenzy. An example of this director Brett Morgen uses the timeline of how ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine relentlessly covered Courtney’s loves pregnancy, all alongside home footage of Kurt, Courtney and Frances. Montage of Heck dances around the trap of media covering media. The abundance of home videos combined with the juxtapositions of Morgen uses make it feel like ‘Montage of Heck’ is trying to shame viewers for watching this film, as though they are uninvited guests and a part of problem of sensationalized media.
Throwing up all these home movies, animations, diary scribbles and interviews may make this documentary seem overwhelming in its 132 minutes of length, but that approach is necessary for a person like Kurt Cobain. Whether one is a casual or die-hard fan of Nirvana’s, anyone who has taken the time to listen to ‘Nevermind’ or ‘In Utero’ will likely get something out of ‘Montage of Heck’. Not so much because one gets unprecedented access into Cobain’s life and mind, but because the presentation of music, art and interview allows so much interpretation. Was there no other way Kurt’s story could have ended, and were we as listeners active players of this tragedy? These messages come to life even more than Kurt’s own story, and that may a good thing.