Montage of Heck: a conduit for a tormented mind

Truly a montage of heck.

Kurt’s frustration and anguish is manifested in a collage of scribbles, paintings and recordings that intimately chronicle his dizzying psyche as if Cobain: Montage of Heck is composed by his own hand. However, this lyrical and visual mosaic is intercut with interviews of friends and family giving a sense of a third person narrative, though director Brett Morgen’s presence is not omniscient. He may have a very personal inside access, but there is a sense that the film is piecing together a puzzle that’s missing a crucial chunk: Kurt himself. Although Kurt’s ghostly presence inhabits every frame, both audibly and visibly, the film feels filtered.

This may sound like a criticism but in fact it’s praise. Morgen doesn’t instill his own voice into the film, potentially imposing on its authenticity. Instead he acts as a conduit for the thoughts and feelings expressed by Kurt, his family and friends.

It’s difficult to capture the essence of a complex mind through narrative without a firsthand account. For this reason, Morgen doesn’t dwell on Kurt’s suicide – the inevitable and abrupt culmination of the film – resolutely avoiding speculation. He focuses his attention on a portrait of the man, channelling the same willful dissonance of Kurt’s music and versifications to allow the film to organically flow.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during MTV Live and Loud: Nirvana Performs Live - December 1993 at Pier 28 in Seattle, Washington, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during MTV Live and Loud: Nirvana Performs Live – December 1993 at Pier 28 in Seattle, Washington, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

There’s something quite harrowing about this film; it’s at times heartbreaking and disturbing, but entirely sympathetic. The result is a profoundly poetic insight into the ontogeny of an “awe-inspiring” but tormented mind.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck ★★★★½

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