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An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at homeCourtesy of Universal UK

Courtney Love on Kurt Cobain

When Courtney spoke to a select Tribeca audience about Kurt, their love, and Montage of Heck, we were in attendance. Here’s what we learnt

Kurt Cobain once famously wrote in a journal, “Please read my diary. Look through my things and figure me out.” This is exactly what Montage of Heck, Brett Morgen’s raw documentary portrait of the tragic Nirvana frontman, invites audiences to do.

Alongside director Morgen, Cobain’s widow and Hole frontwoman Courtney Love was present for a Q&A after the Tribeca screening in New York last night. Despite having seen the film already with daughter Frances Bean Cobain, she tearfully admitted that, watching it again, “I felt some shame this time – guilt, you know, and… what could I have done. It’s kind of self-punishing, but it’s a beautiful movie. I got to spend more time with Kurt and Frances.”

Morgen’s film is an unflinching, sometimes-harrowing look at the much-mythologised Nirvana frontman, using Super-8 footage of the young Cobain, sketches, journals and recordings of his voice animated by Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing, and interviews with loved ones to tell his story. Family members such as Cobain’s father Donald and stepmother Jenny are also interviewed on camera for the first time. 

Here are some other take-outs from last night’s talk:

Why Dave Grohl didn’t make the final cut

Despite Love and Grohl reportedly burying the hatchet, an audience member asked about Grohl’s absence from the film. 

Love said along the way there was “a whole tsunami of shit in the middle and I caused most of it. But it’s all smooth now.”

Morgen explained that the Foo Fighters frontman’s schedule meant he was not available for interview until “three weeks after I had locked the picture”, two weeks before Montage of Heck premiered at Sundance Film Festival. The director wound up interviewing Grohl anyway, but was happy with the movie he had made and didn’t see the need to include the new footage. “It’s not a talking-head movie, and it’s not a movie about Nirvana,” he explained. “The licence is with the next of kin and with Frances – if she’s comfortable with it, then so am I.” Morgen did not say whether Grohl would be added to the HBO televised version of the film, which airs on May 4.

“I think his spirit definitely comes out in the film. I get to see this beautiful man I was in love with 21 years ago and it’s very sad; it brings up different emotions. It’s heavy, but I think it’s as close to the truth as anyone’s gonna get” – Courtney Love

“Everyone has at least one sex tape”

“Everyone makes a sex tape once in their life,” said Love of a saucy home vid that Morgen discovered while researching his film, “We used to record over and over them and I thought he (Morgen) would never catch those frames. But he did... He caught them!” Describing her relationship with Cobain in more detail, she continued, “When you’re 25, you’re just fucking and talking and fighting and fucking. He was like a soulmate.”

Love’s anger at those discounting Cobain’s illness

One relatively undiscussed fact about Cobain is that he suffered from debilitating stomach problems, for which he undertook various endoscopies and biopsies, but which remained undiagnosed up to his death. According to Love, Cobain’s mother suffered from the same complaint.

“We had really young management around us at the time, they were really irresponsible,” said Love of Cobain’s condition, which often saw him shoot up with heroin to alleviate the pain. “To an extent I don’t think they meant to be, but they were. I think he should have been taken to a clinic or whatever.”

“When people discount his stomach issues, as his manager once did, and Kurt started puking up bile, I grabbed his hair. His name was John – I said, ‘If you think its fake then come and look at this.’ It didn’t matter if it was a great day or a bad day, he’d start puking. We didn’t know what it was. Cobain’s disease...” 

On making the film partially for Frances Bean

Frances Bean was just 20 months old when her father died. Morgen said, “I wasn’t sure how much she knew and how much she didn’t know, but I felt like there was an opportunity to bridge the gap. When I showed her the film, she said, ‘Thank you for giving me a couple of hours with my father that I haven’t had.’ What better response can you get as a filmmaker?”

The film is as close to the truth as anyone will ever get

Love spoke admiringly of the film’s beauty, intimacy and authenticity. “I think I spent a lot of time with Kurt’s spirit,” she said. “I think his spirit definitely comes out in the film. I get to see this beautiful man I was in love with 21 years ago and it’s very sad; it brings up different emotions. It’s heavy, but I think it’s as close to the truth as anyone’s gonna get.” 

“It felt in many ways like a documentary whole generation,” said Morgen. “I had this feeling that, if Kurt’s parents were five years older, they wouldn’t have got divorced, or if they were five years younger, they would never have gotten married. It felt very personal. You have to rely on the art to tell the story and because (Kurt) was so (active) across many different form of media, he created this whole visceral autobiography of his experience of life and it felt much more honest. There’s very few people that you can make a film with in this way.”