Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (and 5 other brilliant rock documentaries)
Next week (April 27th) sees the arrival of one of the most talked about 'rockumentaries' in recent memory - Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. The authorised doc uses hours of archival footage, much of which is sourced from Cobain's family, to document Kurt’s life from his early days in Aberdeen, Washington to his success and downfall with the grunge band Nirvana, before his eventual suicide in April 1994. It’s a hefty and sometimes difficult to watch film, trawling through the entirety of his life from sensitive, talented child to sensitive, talented rock star.
Director Brett Morgen shows his cast Cobain, Courtney Love and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic through a selection of home movies depicting Kurt’s life. Most of Cobain’s family and friends were also interviewed for the film, with the exception of his daughter Frances Bean Cobain (who has been credited as executive producer, along with the band's drummer Dave Grohl).
It’s a clear and candid documentary showing a child who came from a broken home and poured his pain into drawings and notebooks. The film charts his rise to fame and his escalating drug use - mainly heroin – but it also depicts a side to Kurt that we've not often seen; at the height of his fame, despite his discomfort at being labelled the biggest rock star in the world, Cobain also found ultimate happiness simultaneously as a husband and father.
Cobain compiled dozens of demo tapes – one called Montage of Heck, from which the film takes its name – and the soundtrack is a collage made out of fragments of these recordings, but beyond this the film never really discusses his all-important music. Instead, we are offered a window into the life of Kurt Cobain the person and not Kurt Cobain the rock star.
There are a million wonderful rock documentaries produced over the years which are worth watching, but we've picked five of our favourites for you to get to grips with while you're waiting for Montage of Heck to arrive next week. You can also find the trailer below...
The horror of this documentary comes from its clear-eyed view of the band's kinetic live power, which could be both hypnotic and terrifying in its intensity. Gimme Shelter is best remembered for its chilling finale - the death of concertgoer Meredith Hunter at the Stones' free 1969 show at Altamont. It's heavy but compelling stuff.
He's referred to himself as ‘Frankenstein’, but in The Carter hip-hop's reliance on artifice and bullshit is lifted in a profile so honest that its subject tried to prevent the film's release. The film follows Lil Wayne's rise from New Orleans teenage rapper to one of the world's most popular MCs. We’re shown everything from Weezy's hostile interviews with journalists to his addiction to cough syrup. Weezy initially agreed to the project, but after seeing the cinéma vérité style the film had, he filed a lawsuit to prevent its distribution. A judge threw out the case, providing fans with a rare peek behind the curtain of life as a hip-hop superstar.
The longevity of this one is unique; Captured over seven years and brought together from thousands of hours of footage, Ondi Timoner's Sundance winner tracked the diverging paths of retro-Sixties singers and frenemies Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols. While the pragmatic, preening Taylor finds some measure of success, the gifted but toxic Newcombe is a hot mess, battling addiction, mental illness and everyone in his path. There’s even an onstage brawl - intense stuff.
Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster
Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were only recruited for a ‘making-of’ feature, but when it became clear that one of the world's biggest rock bands was in the midst of a collective crisis, they stuck around and captured a stand-out record of the live wire dynamics that make any creative enterprise work, and often doom them to failure. Just as their music makes you want to listen on repeat, so will this film.
Woodstock brilliantly captures the legendary three-day festival over three immersive hours, often employing split-screen to accommodate spectacles both onstage (blistering sets by Hendrix, the Who, and Richie Havens) and off (traffic jams, overtaxed Port-a-Potties and open-air sex). Woodstock won an Academy Award and also launched the collaboration between co-director Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker.