Brett Morgen on His Astonishing Cobain Film: ‘Kurt Isn’t Performing for Anyone’
He sounds confident.
And it’s such a refreshing portrait of him. He felt incredibly uncomfortable to me in interviews, when he felt he was under the glare of the lens and recorder. When we think of great rock & roll docs like Dylan [Don’t Look Back] and the Metallica film [Some Kind of Monster], most of our iconic images in film are of our heroes when they are performing for the cameras. Dylan is performing in that D.A. Pennebaker film, from first frame to last frame. And that’s how we experience it.
What we get in Montage of Heck is all this material where Kurt isn’t performing for anyone. Nothing is being filtered. There are these raw intimate moments that were not intended to be disseminated.
Did you get the sense that, as an executive producer, Frances knew what she wanted to present about her father or had things she wanted to learn?
We didn’t have that discussion. It was “I want it to be honest. I want it to be fucking good.” That’s it in a nutshell. We were totally in agreement, in the emphasis on art and an unflinching look. That was music to my ears.
Did Frances talk about her mother’s earlier involvement in the film?
No. As all this was brewing, I decided it wouldn’t be appropriate if Courtney was involved on a creative level. It was painful to have that discussion with her. She was the one who brought me in. But I knew that it would alienate a tremendous amount of the fan base if they thought it was a Courtney project. A Frances project was fresh, and there was a certain purity to that.
We had a very emotional experience, at the storage facility. I went with her to that facility and that was intense. This was in 2013. We were getting everything ready for the film. She starts opening up these boxes for the first time. It felt to me like the Christmas she never had. Courtney is not into kitsch; she doesn’t get into that. Frances – that is her whole asesthetc. And so she’s opening these boxes and in the moment, it’s not that it’s her dad’s – she’d love this shit if it was anyone’s. The fact that it was her dad’s made it that much cooler: “Oh my God, there’s an H.R. Pufnstuf lunchbox, and a Freddy Kruger doll.” It was amazing to watch. She went from box to box to box. And then she settled down. And it got emotional, intense. Part of that sense of making a film for Frances was out of that experience with her, seeing how she didnt know any of this material. There was so much that she hadn’t allowed herself to experience yet.
Frances and I have never spoken about this directly, so I’m going to conjecture. My guess is for a lot of kids who lose their parents before the age of two, the child grows up possibly with a deep sense of guilt: “Was it me?” A lot of kids in that situation would blame themselves. And one of the things you see in Montage of Heck is a lot of Kurt’s problems predate Frances. They predate Courtney. And they predated Nirvana.