It's 21 years since Kurt Cobain's death by suicide and his status as a legendary alternative rock figure and totem for a disaffected generation has not dimmed in the intervening period.
Although I had been eagerly awaiting this documentary, at the same time I approached it with a wariness more than half expecting it to be a depressing encounter. Given what I already knew about the mental difficulties and addiction problems Kurt faced during his short life and the eventual sad outcome it was hard to believe that anything of a positive nature could be wrung from seeing this.
This is the first official documentary made about the life of Kurt Cobain. It has been made with the co-operation of his family. His daughter Frances Bean is an executive producer. His parents, sister, wife- Courtney Love, first girlfriend and fellow band member Chris Novoselic (the third band member Dave Grohl is the notable absentee) have all contributed, allowing themselves to be interviewed.
The expectation of access to intimate home videos as well as Kurt's own drawings, writing, outpourings etc and other previously unseen footage bringing with it the possibility of gaining a clearer view on Kurt Cobain's life is probably the thing which will entice most viewers to go see this. This heavy reliance on this intimate source material makes for an intense portrayal of the subject. It's also what makes it a success. It's noticeable how often for instance on screen we are shown up-close, his own words in his hand-writing in the original copybook complete with stains and other words and sentences crossed out. It's the closest place the director can bring us, next to occupying Kurt's mind. Much of the writing is angry and nihilistic but there are lots of lists too- of things to do for example; it all suggests a wildly active mind and one not easy to keep a rein on.
Home videos himself and Courtney produced, both while pregnant with, and then after Frances Bean was born similarly get us up-close and personal. It's excruciating to watch but compelling too- a couple wrapped up in each other but also in their drug dependency. When Frances Bean is born his love for her is touching but then the videos also reveal the declining health as the heroin addiction spirals.
As intense and personal as it is there are no major revelatory insights into the life or death of Kurt Cobain in this documentary. This is not a failing of the documentary as I don't think any revelatory new angles or expositions could have been expected. As well as this the title (taken from the name of a mix-tape Kurt put together) does indicate obfuscation or a lack of clarity or certainty about a picture drawn. So it should be; where a life ends so tragically definitive answers can never be presented and any distillation of his life or death into neat summations is thankfully and rightly avoided.
The documentary tells us the following (which in essence we already know or suppose we know). Kurt was an energetic, intelligent child who became withdrawn and angry as he got older, probably owing largely to his parent's divorce. He was often a lone, self-hating teenager who found a release from his angst in smoking pot and then at a certain age he discovered punk music which lit a torch and he began to teach himself guitar and write music. He was disaffected enough and genius enough to write brilliantly disaffected genius songs. His music struck a chord, Nirvana became huge almost overnight and then he struggled with the idea of being held up as a spokesperson for a generation. Desperately insecure, above all else he craved love and a need for rootedness- a family to belong to. He found this with Courtney Love and later their daughter. He sought refuge in them away from what he saw as a hostile world but tragically he also sought refuge in heroin.
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