Montage of Heck Gives Us Kurt Cobain, the Artist

Kurt Cobain
Courtesy of HBO (5)
Kurt Cobain

In the new HBO documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) takes viewers inside the creative mind of legendary Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, who rose to superstardom in the early ’90s with hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and tragically took his own life in 1994, at the age of 27. Working with the cooperation of the Cobain family, Morgen sifted through 15 hours of home-video footage, 200 hours of never-before-heard recordings, and more than 4,000 pages of journal entries to assemble the film’s narrative.

“I wanted Kurt to tell the story of his life through his art,” Morgen says. “I came to see Kurt less as a rock star and more as an artist with a capital A.”

The documentary–whose title is a nod to one of Cobain’s early mixtapes of vocal and instrumental recordings–features brand-new interviews with Cobain’s loved ones, including mother Wendy, sister Kim, and widow ­Courtney Love. Morgen credits Cobain and Love’s daughter, Frances Bean, now 22, as ­instrumental in his gaining unprecedented access to Kurt’s archives. “It’s really a family origin story,” Morgen says. “I felt I was making a film about a son and brother and father before I was making a film about Nirvana. And the more we stepped away from the myth, the more appealing Kurt became.”

The band still plays a pivotal role in the film’s overall arc, thanks to vintage concert footage and television clips procured from the MTV archive. Montage of Heck also spotlights the musician’s growing discomfort with fame and the pressures of being the face of disenfranchised youth. “Kurt came to represent the uglies, the downtrodden, and the misfits and became a beacon for kids,” Morgen says. “And he continues to this day to provide comfort for countless generations.”

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Monday, May 4, 9/8c, HBO