The much-talked-about documentary of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain premiered in select theaters this Friday. I caught the film at a midnight showing at the IFC Center in New York and what I witnessed was nothing short of one the most intimate experiences of my life.

Standing in line to get tickets, I saw a memo on the box office window reading “KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK: at request of the filmmakers this feature will be played LOUD.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the memo added to my excitement of seeing the film more than I already was after following the updates since the its announcement at the beginning of the year.

When 11:50 p.m. rolled around and we shuffled into the theater to take our seats, I was awake and alert. The lights dimmed and the screen went black. The title credits rolled on, accompanied by the song “Territorial Pissings” blaring over the theater speakers. The montage of ‘60s clips fit with the rambunctious nature of the song and soon the music faded leaving us only with Cobain’s isolated vocals at the end of the track.

The film wastes no time getting into the history of the late-singer’s childhood, from his beginnings as a happy child to his troubled teenage years, illustrated by home videos, journal entries and drawings from the troubled singer.

The home videos of a younger Cobain are accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful instrumental rendition of the band’s 1993 hit “All Apologies.” The lullaby arrangement of the song adds emotional depth to the home videos Cobain, instead of having it play with voice over.


Director Brett Morgen pieces the documentary together in seamless fashion with home videos, interviews with Cobain’s family, unreleased demos and narratives of Cobain recorded talking about experiences of his teenage years. The testimonials are spread throughout the film and don’t take up too much of the film’s focus.

Morgen instead focuses more on the home video footage to take up most the film. What’s interesting is that the only two people outside his family are his wife, Courtney Love, and bandmate Kirst Noveselic.

The absence of drummer Dave Grohl is upsetting, but there were rumors he would be in the bonus features on the blu-ray/DVD release. There are no interviews with music critics and record producers that would otherwise overcrowd the film; Morgen brings the attention to those closest with the singer, which helps to make the documentary even more intimate.

The narrative recordings done by Cobain are accompanied with animated reenactments, which are done remarkably well. I had heard about the animated segments from other reviews and was unsure how they would fit with the film and whether they would change the mood of it. However, they are probably one of the best parts of the film, as it adds depth to Cobain and is done carefully without being too cheesy or out of place.

As the film progresses, it becomes more emotional and uncomfortably intimate as you learn about the singer’s fights with drugs, pain and fame. Morgen gives us just enough footage of Nirvana’s breakout success in 1991 and 1992 with the release of “Nevermind” and doesn’t oversaturate us with interviews and performances we’ve seen time and time again in almost every ‘90s documentary.

His relationship with Love comes on screen soon after the footage of Nirvana in 1992. Her interviews with Morgen, home videos of her and Cobain in their apartment and backstage videos of her on tour with the band take up a majority of the second half of the film.

The home videos of Love and Cobain are pieced together so flawlessly that you almost forget it’s a documentary and you think you’re watching a biopic.

The testimonials at this point are almost nonexistent and are placed scarcely.

The emotions in the theater ran high once the home videos of Love, Cobain and their baby daughter Frances emerge. Morgen shows us a side of Cobain that we’ve never seen: Cobain as a father. Laughter and tears flow at this stage as you look and see just how humble Cobain was behind the scenes.

The film continues with ever-so-brief archival and behind the scenes footage of the band’s third and final album “In Utero.” This final half of the film looks at the inner struggle Cobain had with his personal demons. Morgen hits that point home with footage of Cobain that is almost unnerving as you see his decline and inevitable suicide.

The film ends almost abruptly, just as the singer’s life did. Morgen doesn’t bother with interviews or footage of the suicide because the lead-up was emotionally draining enough.

Overall, the documentary is a must-see for any Nirvana fan. This intimate look at the singer’s life is something that I don’t see ever happening again with another artist.

Morgen doesn’t attempt to glorify or bash Cobain, but instead presents us his life in raw form and in a fashion that helps you get to know Cobain and leaves the theater with you.

The film will be playing at the IFC Center in New York until Thursday, April 30 and will then be premiered on HBO Monday, May 4 at 9:00 p.m.

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