Cobain said in a 1993 MTV News interview: “I wanted to have the adoration of John Lennon but the anonymity of Ringo Starr.” Ever since Cobain shot himself in 1994, there has been a narrative built around him as a rock star who couldn’t handle fame. Yes, Cobain is the King of Grunge, but Montage of Heck proves that he was much more than that.
UWT student Sam Holloway says, “From what I read and saw, he is just like any other human being. He had his problems, like he did drugs to deal with his stomach problems.”
The film explores Cobain’s chaotic adolescence, rocket-forced fame, heroin addiction, and his struggles to create stability through his drawings and journal confessions. Kurt Cobain says in the Montage of Heck trailer, “I was [an] underdeveloped, immature little dude that never got laid.” This exploration shows that not only was Cobain, a musician, but he was also a painter, illustrator, cartoonist, and sound engineer.
UWT student Ethan Young hopes when seeing the film that he gains a further understanding of Cobain’s childhood. Young says, “One of the things Kurt Cobain referenced in his suicide note was his parent’s divorce. And I feel like that had an enormous impact on how he behaved to a lot of these situations.”
Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, provided Morgen with unrestricted access to a storage facility in Southern California. Morgen found heart shaped boxes, guitar cases filled with art supplies and “sound collage” mixtapes Cobain created, journals and 108 never-before heard-cassette tapes.
According to Newsweek, Stefan Nadelman animated Cobain’s drawings and journals and added hyper-realistic renderings of his spoken accounts that are woven through narrative alongside concert footage and sketches from his many notebooks.
According to The New York Times, Cobain’s never-heard cassette tapes contain recordings of him experimenting on the guitar, talking on the phone, working on a Nirvana song, and revealing stories about his anguished teenage years.
The documentary contains home movies, onstage footage of Nirvana, graphic animation, and interviews with the press, close friends, and family.
There are certain sections of the film that contain stories of Cobain’s past shown through an animated graphic novel. Cobain’s wife Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic (Bassist of Nirvana), his divorced parents, younger sister Kim, and first girlfriend Tracy Marander were all interviewed for the documentary. Morgen told NME that Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s December interview will not appear in the Documentary because the interview took place too late to make the film’s current edit.
According to NME Magazine, the title Montage of Heck was named after a mixtape Cobain made in 1988. The mixtape features clips of songs by The Beatles, Iron Maiden, The Monkees, Black Sabbath, Jackson 5, and others.
Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain is executive producer of the film. Frances wanted an honest film that dealt with Kurt as an artist.
What drove Cobain to get high and shoot himself has been endlessly debated for 21 years. The film shows that there are many reasons why Cobain ended his life and there are many questions that will remain unanswered.
Would Cobain have as big of a legacy if he didn’t kill himself? Young responds, “I don’t think he would have as big of a following, but the legacy of the band would be prominent because he brought the entire Seattle music scene onto the global stage.”