Sunday, 10 May 2015

kids in contrast

Montage of Heck - A documentary of Kurt Cobain's Life. (Not my usual Photography) A few thoughts on the documentary. I don't normally do but I'm a huge Nirvana fan!

Montage of Heck is a searing look at Kurt Cobain's life.  It absorbs you from the beginning amply conveying the magnetic but conflicted artist and brings the viewer to a place of melancholic nostalgia.

The film opens with home footage of the Cobain family, a haunting lullaby rendition of  "All Apologies"  playing eerily in the background and Kurt as a golden blonde firstborn child of very young parents in the small logging town of Aberdeen, Washington.  He appears vibrant and playful especially with his mother Wendy O' Connor.  Sweet childhood drawings of Kurt's cartoon characters like Snoopy and Mickey Mouse add to the viewer's sense of safe passage - but yet there is a palpable sense of doom hanging in the air.  

His mother filmed many hours of him from his baby years to around age 12, which was unusual at that time - circa late 60's to early 70's.  The Super 8 footage reveals an energetic and highly affectionate child. His body language is a far cry than the man he was to become.  It is quite apparent in these early home movies that he was a Mother's boy.  And the home videos reveal a mother and son who are never apart.  The connection cannot go unnoticed.   At around age 12 his mother seems to have a mid-life crisis, perhaps an epiphany - and wants a divorce from his father, Don Cobain.  

 If you look hard enough at what is unfolding on the screen visually and audibly, one could deduce that his mother pulled away from him to live a single life.  She was a very attractive woman and naturally enjoyed the company of men - and desired a certain freedom. Understandably.   This was a tipping point - for she proceeded to exit Kurt from the house at age 12 to live with his emotionally unavailable father.  She does not do a sufficient job of explaining why she felt such a drastic maneuver necessary.  This appears to have produced a source of severe trauma for him and it is unsure his mother knew the level of abandonment he felt.   It was to set to play out in a slow tragedy.

Watching the documentary, it struct me that for famous and talented male - and then rock star, he was strikingly monogamous.  He wrote everything in his journals, the contents of which combined with people who knew him, reveal he had only 4 or 5 intimate relationships.  Two of these were long term relationships, included Courtney Love.  This indicates a sensitive soul - too sensitive for the world he had entered.  He sought out or was sought by strong females who nurtured him to the border of mothering.  His first girlfriend, Tracy Marander, was arguably the person who enabled him to become a successful musician in the neighboring town of Olympia, Washington.   She clearly loved him and provided an environment of affection and economic support required for someone like Kurt. Without her it's my opinion he would have leaned too heavy into drugs as way of smoothing the sharp edges of life for the likes of Kurt Cobain.

In the scene introducing Courtney Love to the viewer as a curly haired blonde with sweaty ambition, she is shown in the small audience of an early Nirvana practice before a gig.  A band member (Krist Novoselic?) makes a joke about Love's appearance and she squeals then storms towards the exit.  While she walking away from the stage, the camera focuses on Kurt for only a few seconds, but he is tracing a smile and clearly enamored with Love. It is easy to see what drew these two together when in an archived home video, he, with skilled humor, puppets her reading of a Sassy Magazine letter to the editor.  In another archival segment, the couple is seen play-acting the part of 'down and out' junkies for the camera, shaking and coughing while sitting on a floor mattress.  It is impromptu but it indicates that they had a high level of connection rarely found.  A scene in which Kurt is nodding off while holding his daughter, Francis - protesting to Love, "I'm not on drugs.  I'm tired," is painful to watch.  

-  His success and the relationship with Love provides only a couple years of reprieve from his own demons.  He seems to have got caught in the proverbial fix: What if one gets everything they want and still cannot grasp happiness - what does one do now?  He chose to retreat into his lifelong pattern of withdrawal and escapism through drugs.  Heroin being his last stop on his escalator of chronic drug use.

As for the music:  Nirvana and Cobain's music plays throughout and there could be no other soundtrack for this documentary.The director skillfully avoided his last days and suicide instead his exquisite MTV Unplugged performance provides the audience with closure.  

It is difficult to find redemption in Montage of Heck's tale of Cobain's life.  But this remains true to Cobain himself, who, even with his surprising ambition to succeed (perhaps a reaction to the rejected child's desire to be noticed, loved ) was never able to enjoy his artistic and material success.

A tragedy.