This April marks the 21st anniversary of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s untimely death back in 1994. Cobain: Montage of Heck is the first authorised documentary of the lead singer and guitarist to be made. Approached by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen was given unrestricted access to the archives of Kurt’s life, including video tapes, audio recordings and other personal material that has never been seen before.
Having seen Morgen’s previous documentary on film producer Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Courtney Love approached Morgen and said she enjoyed his use of archive footage on the documentary and asked if he wanted to produce a documentary on Cobain. Allowing Morgen complete creative control, Courtney Love handed over countless hours of video footage, 200 hours of audio recordings and over 4000 pages from diaries. Even upon completion, after viewing the finished documentary, both Courtney and Frances (Kurt and Courtney’s daughter) didn’t even request a single edit. Courtney Love even went on to claim the documentary was “the closest I’ve got to Kurt in 20 years.”
Brett Morgen’s has a varied and celebrated list of documentaries to his name, including Say it Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America, a couple of sports documentaries including an episode of the highly acclaimed ESPN documentary series 30 for 30. The stand out film that caught the attention of Kurt Cobain’s wife, Courtney, was The Kid Stays in the Picture. Released in 2002, it documents the Paramount producer Robert Evans, the first actor to run a movie studio, who ran Paramount from 1966-1974 and oversaw such classics as The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown.
The name Montage of Heck comes from a 36 minute mixtape found by Morgen of Cobain, a collection of songs ranging from Butthole Surfers, early Nirvana recordings to Simon and Garfunkel. Director Brett Morgen describes the tape as a “journey through Kurt’s mind”, exploring sides to the Nirvana frontman many had not seen before. The film also contains an unreleased 12 minute acoustic from Cobain, which is also to be released on the accompanying soundtrack, which has not got a release date yet.
There have been many documentaries about the untimely death of Kurt Cobain at just the age of 27, but none were given the rights to Nirvana’s music until now. It was Courtney Love’s unwavering support and trust in Brett Morgen’s vision that has lead to a documentary which did not even require a different cut or any changes from the filmmaker as it received the full stamp of approval from everyone close to Kurt. When a documentary is given creative freedom without outside interference, the filmmakers are able to tell the story that they truly believe in, without running the risk of being watered down.
Cobain: Montage of Heck premiered at the Sundance film festival back in January to critical acclaim from across the board and subsequently received glowing reviews from NME. April 7th has been the release date for the companion book, which includes unseen pictures and rare photographs from the Kurt Cobain archives. The film is set for a theatrical release on April 10th, with the HBO television airing in May.