Sunday, 26 April 2015

Documentary: Montage of Heck

I went to see Montage of Heck today, the documentary about Kurt Cobain. It's impossible to write about in a vacuum, because the story, the time period etc had such a profound impact on everyone of that era who was a Nirvana fan or a teenager when Kurt died. I'm sure everyone has their own story about that time, and the impact of his death culturally and emotionally. Like Patty's documentary Hit So Hard, this was very painful to watch at times and me and my friend who went to see it both came out of the cinema needing a Valium and a nice sit down.
Now here's a confession; I don't like Kurt Cobain very much. I loved him so much when I was a teenager that when he killed himself, I took it as a personal insult. I felt so deeply betrayed by him, I barely ever listened to Nirvana again. I saw him as weak and Courtney as strong, and I just thought him leaving Frances was unforgivable. I also feel like he was a bit of a pissy cunt; at one point in this documentary he goes he doesn't care about the fame, just the songs, but that wasn't true for him, just like it isn't for Morrissey. Kurt wanted the fame, but couldn't live with it when he got it. I always thought he was kind of a dick with how embarrassed he was about being seen as 'mainstream'. But hey, you get what you want and you never want it again, right?
Twenty years later and I forgive him for the suicide; I realise it was a lot more complex than it was inside my teenage brain. He was a seriously ill man, mentally and physically. But Nirvana have stayed in that kind of time capsule for me, whereas I've carried Courtney with me ever since. So it's a weird clash of nostalgia to be taken back to that time.
I think some of the childhood stuff could have been cut; I feel like I've done Kurt's childhood to death; Heavier than Heaven was a bit like Morrissey and Marr; a thesis in Kurt Cobain that we had to read back when we were greebos. I had Kurt Cobain: The Diaries and I like seeing all his doodles and lists and things (like Courtney's) but I wonder if HE would like it? And the documentary being named after his old mixtape? He was so concerned about image that I wonder if he would cringe a bit at seeing them animating his childhood doodles? I don't know, it doesn't quite sit right with me, but then some of his little bon mots were genius. He was a really intelligent man, but he just thought too much. Like when he did a doodle of Courtney and said 'You talk to much.' She does, so he mustn't have had much time to think when she was around. Probably that was part of her appeal.
I also didn't like the animated parts of the documentary that much; especially in contrast to Kurt's own drawings, which were considerably better. I just thought it was a bit pointless or a bit out of place, but my friend didn't mind it.The music was very powerful in the documentary, except for a kind of pan pipes version of one Nirvana song at the beginning, plus I don't like that kids' choir singing 'Teen spirit', it's creepy. But on the whole, the music was just so loud and powerful it just felt like you were being blasted with a hairdryer of pure pain. It was pretty effective.
I was surprised to see Kurt's dad and stepmum in the film; I don't remember seeing much about them before, although I must have read plenty about them and just forgotten it. His dad looked like a square and his stepmum looked like a leathery lizard. His mum is beautiful, and sad. Yeah he got passed around when he was younger, but his childhood was no worse than most people's I know. I think his problems ran deeper; I think his problems were in his psyche and drugs gave him a break, from when he was little onwards.
It was a shame they wheeled out his first girlfriend again; this woman gets more airtime on Kurt and Courtney documentaries than Dave Grohl (more of which later). Would you want your first boyfriend/girlfriend sharing their memories of you again and again? It's just cringey and lowest common denominator..
Krist Novoselic cut a sad sort of figure, in his pristine, Scandinavian-esque house. I think it was when they cut to Nirvana's music blaring out screaming and then cut back to him as my friend Sarah said, kind of 'covering up' for Kurt, it just felt a bit tragic. I liked him in the old clips as the only one with a sense of humour (for the most part, although Kurt was having some moustache-related bantz in the bathroom with Courtney later). Let's be honest Dave 'Kurt hated him' Grohl doesn't have much of anything to offer, and was mainly notable by his absence in this documentary, which I was pleased about. Krist was the real deal, and he must be haunted by memories too, as well as befuddled by the popularity of the Foo Fighters, like the rest of us. There's only so long that Nirvana goodwill should have lasted, and it should have run out in about 1995. God knows what happened there.
All the old Nirvana footage, magazine covers etc made me feel so nostalgic for that time, my brothers, growing up, it was just a completely different time. Every image, clip, song in this documentary took me back to my bedroom, me taping every Nirvana video or performance on the VCR. The most powerful clip was probably the 'Unplugged' footage played to death by MTV and ruined for years, but here you could see it in isolation and just how amazing it was, and tragic. The Smells like Teen Spirit video, seen for the first time, is brilliant. The nuts and bolts of it are beautiful. Criminal what they did to his legacy, really. MTV definitely made me hate several of the songs just because I was so tired of hearing them.
It felt like a very long time until Courtney showed up, but of course, these were some of the most powerful parts of the documentary. I thought we were going to get a Kurt and Courtney sex tape at one point! Courtney is right, he was more beautiful than Brad Pitt and it was obvious how much she adored him. The video footage of their relationship was so personal, and so revealing; the strength of their love, and their addiction. The clip towards the end where she's trying to get him to hold Frances and he's all scabby and nearly passing out was just horrendous. Could nobody see it? Courtney seemed far more 'with it' than him; he was deathly ill at that point, already. I'm certain he would have died one way or the other, it was just a matter of time. Terrifying to think of Frances being brought up by them at that time; but she looked like such a pudgy, healthy baby. I honestly don't know how Courtney and Frances watched this documentary together, it's just so raw.
The last clip of them in the bathroom with Frances and Courtney in the bath felt so personal. When Courtney says something like, 'I feel kind of happy right now' and he said, 'I do, too' it was just too much. He was dead four months later.
Whatever you think of Courtney, and I've heard everything people think, most of the time very much uninvited, he loved her from the bottom of his heart. Getting the crowd at Reading to say they loved her was just beautiful, and I know there are many more examples of this (The Word, etc). Even his death threats to journalists were quite romantic. I think it's sad the way she's never found anyone who can live up to him, who worships her the way he did. Do I believe she never cheated on him? No. But it's irrelevant. Their love was undeniable. I wish we could see more of the footage of the Courtney interview, but then I always want more Courtney. I just find her so fascinating. She is such a strong, flawed character.
The Heart Shaped Box era always gives me a sense of dread, because it was, of course, right near the end. Was 'I hate myself and I want to die' literal? I think we got the answer to that one. 
I'm glad the documentary finished when it did; I don't think any of us could have faced seeing that photo of him lying dead again, or the suicide note eulogy, especially not at that point.
There's no moral to the story, just a really sad, sad memory left behind, as well as the travesty of the Foo Fighters' continued success. And now I'm 34, not 14. I'm a grown up. I work the 9-5, and it's not so bad, it's better than being dead, you know? It might not seem like it when you're a rock star, but it's actually alright.
And Kurt Cobain never got to get trolled on Twitter, or get to be on E News or get doodled on by Perez Hilton. And for that he'd probably be glad. But if only he could have seen another way out. Courtney always said if only he'd gone away to an island, just jacked it all in. But he wanted the fame, and he didn't want it. And if even Frances wasn't reason enough to stay, then there was ever going to be a happy ending. He could have got clean, but he still would have been famous, and mainstream. I just don't think it was what he signed up for - or thought he was signing up for.
For so long afterwards, I waited for Courtney to die, but she never did. She could survive a nuclear war, that one, and that's why I love her. I hope her and Frances are OK and will be OK. I wish Courtney could find someone who loves her, like he did. Yet anyone would be lucky to find a love like that, even once in a lifetime.
And as for those teenagers in Nirvana t-shirts now? You weren't there, man. But we were. And it hurt.