Review: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


This was previously reviewed as part of’s 2015 Sundance coverage.

PLOT: An authorized documentary focusing on the life of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain.

REVIEW: Those of who dream of fame and fortune may think twice after seeing KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK. More than anything I’ve seen in a while, this proves the old adage that money and fame can’t buy happiness, as Cobain – at the height of his fame – was just as haunted as he had been when he was a poor, unloved high schooler, or a young man trying to eke out a living as a musician.

On a personal note, I remember vividly when Cobain died. I watched his funeral live on Much Music (the Canadian MTV) and while I was probably too young and geeky to really understand what the world had lost, I remember my sister, who’s a few years older, being absolutely beside herself with grief. There was a palpable sense – at the time anyways – that the generation was somehow robbed of their spokesman, just the way the previous generation must have felt when John Lennon was killed. What made it even worse was the sense that Cobain – by taking his own life – had somehow betrayed the fans that identified with him so deeply.

While no documentary is ever going to explain why Cobain had to kill himself, MONTAGE OF HECK comes closer than you’d think. Highly unconventional in style, this is as far removed from a “behind the music” tale of rock and junkies that you can get. Fully authorized by Cobain’s family, to the point that his daughter Francis Bean produced it, Brett Morgen‘s documentary is more in line with his earlier THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, letting Cobain’s own voice tell much of the tale. It turns out Cobain and wife Courtney Love frequently recorded themselves on video, no matter how bad shape they were in, and footage that otherwise would have never seen the light of day is prominently featured here. While we never see him shoot heroin, it’s clear that much of the time Cobain is heavily under the influence, and contemporary interviews with people like Cobain’s mother, Krist Novoselic (Dave Grohl is only present in archive footage) and most importantly Courtney Love herself shine a lot of light into what was going on with him at the time. Love even admits to having taken heroin while pregnant with Francis Bean, and her candor here is pretty impressive. She comes clean about a lot of things, and emerges a lot more sympathetically than she has in other Nirvana docs.

Morgen also had full access to Cobain’s archive of diaries, with many of the ravings presenting Cobain as a seriously troubled, but compassionate and highly intelligent guy. One of the most interesting parts of the movie deals with his childhood, with stock footage, 8mm home movies, and even animated sequences presenting a troubled upbringing. Cobain’s family deserves a lot of credit for resisting the urge to mythologize Cobain, with this definitely being a warts and all type bio.

Happily, MONTAGE OF HECK will be showing up on HBO this summer, giving everyone a chance to see this insightful and fascinating documentary. While we’ll never know what drove Cobain to take his own life, MONTAGE OF HECK will give you a sense of both his demons and his genius. Cobain’s sister makes an interesting point early on where she says that she envied him as a child, but when she realized the downside of genius – i.e the internal demons, she was happy to be normal. Many of us may feel the same way after seeing this.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.