Kurt Cobain: The Suicidal Brilliant
Bobbie L. Washington
There is a documentary on HBO that is currently running entitled Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. It is about the meteoric rise and subsequently spiraling crash on the life of Kurt Cobain. And it is remarkable. It was written and directed by Brett Morgen with the cooperation from Kurt's parents, his sister and his daughter, Frances Cobain. She also serves as executive producer on this project as well. It was reported that Frances Cobain wanted an honest portrayal of her father perhaps so as not to elevate him to the point of beatification. But in this documentary, you get the sense that you are more than just spying on this family, you get the sense that you are watching Kurt's soul being painted on a canvas and you are helpless to stop what will become the tragic outcome.
What makes this documentary such a stand out is the use of illustrations and animations as well as old stock footage and home videos that turns it from a picture perfect portrait of idealism into a stark unpleasant portrait of substance abuse. With montages of a World War II generation getting on with their lives after the war and with images of the Cleaver family, that ideal family form the 50's, we look into the life of Kurt's parents and what pass as the ideal family. It was a conventional relationship with the parents, all of the girls in his mother's age group was married off and his father made overtures towards her and as a matter of convenience and expediency, the union was formed. Kurt soon followed and since he was the first grandchild in the family, Kurt was adored and showered with affection from all quarters in the family. And as time moved on, nobody was divorced in the tiny town in which they were from said the mother, that's how things were. But for her, that wasn't the case, Kurt's parents divorced when he was a prepubescent teen and for him it was a precarious time of upheaval and a thing to come.
As you watch this, you see a lot of Kurt's writings, illustrations, lyrics, general thoughts, just about everything he's ever put pencil to paper being put on display. It moves the documentary on in a way that captures even more the insight of who this man was and the angst he had gone through as a child. He dropped out of school with two months remaining and never looked back. By this time he was already writing lyrics to some of the most captivating concepts he would eventually explore. There is one scene where you see a still picture of Kurt sleeping on a sofa and his face morphs into a distortion and you are in his thoughts filled with a psychedelic imagery of misshapen globules coming at you from all corners.
And then there's the images of Kurt as a cartoon done in rotoscope animation. This is haunting in that you hear Kurt in his own voice as if Brett Morgen has taken the images directly from a video and transposed them into a ghoulish specter that has come back to haunt you. But it works as it draws you into something more than documentary. It doesn't allow you to become bored with just one voice droning on. It is layered, it is compelling.
And it comes to the point where you see the evolution of Kurt and the band Nirvana. Like all things of success, timing is everything. What was it about this band that help capture the disassociate generation of that time? Kurt had become the default leader apparent and by all indicators, a reluctant one at that. Like all artists of a certain ilk, it was suppose to be all about the creative process of making music. There was a scene of Kurt on stage that reminded me of a Jim Morrison performance with The Doors. It seemed to parallel each other lives and you don't know if that was intentional or not but it was eerily fascinating to see.
But it seems like his relationship with his mistress, suicide, had been going on for quite some time starting as a teenager. It appears that the divorce of his parents was the catalyst that changed the way he saw things from that point on. He was given Ridalin at an early age to quell his hyperactive self and at the time, narcotizing kids was the preferred thing to do. You have to wonder if parents just wasn't capable of dealing with children who were active as a norm and instead just listen to some psycho babble about kids behavior? He wrote so much about suicide but nobody looked over his shoulder or really seemed to take such concerns with the level of interest that should have raised alarms.
And so we reach Nirvana. The band is wildly successful with all the trappings that comes with it. But still, there is this edge that Kurt struggles with. He wears the mask of success but deep down he is terrified. He finds new love with Courtney Love, he finds fleeting happiness with the birth of his daughter and yet the demons still exist. He writes more about suicide. He attempts a suicide after he suspects that Courtney Love is having an affair. Why didn't anyone check him into rehab after, that is a question that needs to be asked? One month later, he succeeds with his thoughts.
And you wonder what might have been with Kurt Cobain if he hadn't killed himself? Where would he be musically? You ask that with many artist who have left us much too soon but with Kurt, his writings were something to behold. Like Jim Morrison, who's poetry and lyrics were something on another plain, Kurt Cobain was just as equal in delivering compelling tortured prose. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck should be viewed in an academic environment and as a life lesson to any up and coming angst riddle artist.