'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck': 7 Things We Learned About the Nirvana Frontman

by Sophie Schillaci 9:30 AM PDT, May 05, 2015
Photo: HBO

More than two decades after his death, fans saw a new side of Kurt Cobain on Monday night.

After a film festival run and limited theatrical release, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck finally made its small screen debut on HBO. The rock doc -- directed by Brett Morgen and co-executive produced by Cobain's daughter, Frances Bean -- revealed several never-before-heard songs by the Nirvana frontman and new details about his personal life via home movies, notebook doodles, and highly personal journal entries.

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With a running time of more than two hours, Montage of Heck offers plenty of insight into Cobain's too-brief 27 years. But as Variety critic Dennis Harvey notes his review, the film offers little in terms of truly new information. "If Montage of Heck has a flaw," Harvey writes, "it's that Cobain's regrettably brief life has been so persistently combed through already that the pic can offer little truly new insight."

Still, there are plenty of key takeaways from the project. Here, we count down the seven biggest highlights.

1. Cobain was destined for stardom: Through very early home footage, we see a young Cobain banging away on small instruments -- showing off an early talent for all things creative. "He was so kind and so worried about people, you know, if they were OK or if somebody got hurt," said Cobain’s mother, Wendy, providing the film's first significant narrative. "And then on top of that, he started singing and playing guitar, and once he could draw he drew all the time." 

2. Before heroin, there was Ritalin: Cobain’s mother recalled giving "something like Ritalin" to her son in an (unsuccessful) effort to slow him down. 

"He'd be upside-down, with his head hanging off where your legs would be and his feet up on the back of the rocking chair, going 90 miles an hour on it, and he'd be repeating everything verbatim from Sesame Street," she said. Later, through his journals, Kurt narrated his own teenage experiences with marijuana. "Oh boy, pot," he said. "I could escape all day long and not have routine nervous breakdowns."

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3. Dark teenage years and an early suicide attempt: A significant portion of the film features journal narrative, set to animations by Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing. As viewers are pulled through Cobain's teenage years, becoming increasingly defiant with his family and ultimately being bounced around between relatives' homes, we watch as Cobain loses his virginity a girl whom he describes as "fat" and "illiterate." ("I tried to f--k her but didn't know how, and asked her if she'd ever done this before, and she said, a lot of times but mainly with her cousin.") After word gets out, Cobain says, "I couldn't handle the ridicule so I got high and drunk, I walked down to the train tracks and laid down and put two big pieces of cement on my chest and legs and waited for the 11 o'clock train. The train came closer and closer and closer, and it went on the next track besides me instead of over... The train scared me enough to try and rehabilitate myself." 

At the film's Tribeca screening, Cobain's widow Courtney Love would publicly question the validity of these stories.

Photo: HBO

4. Meet Tracy Marander: Fans know Tracy as Cobain's girlfriend while he created the Montage of Heck mixtape before Nirvana hit it big. Here, she shares her story of loving and living with the future rock star. "I know that some people will say I treated Kurt maternally, took care of him, but I like to think it was more I was trying to nurture him," she said, let him do his art, let him do his music. Encourage him to get better at it, instead of trying to stifle it."

5. "We're prepared to destroy our careers:" Cobain’s struggles with fame have been well documented, but that doesn't make his pre-Nevermind interviews any less eerie. "It's embarrassing to have so many expectations," he said of Nirvana being dubbed "The Next Big Thing." "People are putting that tag on us without us really wanting to be that... We're prepared to destroy our careers if that happens." Where he was relatively relaxed in early interview footage, his disdain for the media grows painfully apparent in the plethora of post-Nevermind interviews. 

NEWS: Courtney Love Gets Choked Up at 'Montage of Heck' Tribeca Premiere

6. Cobain really loved his wife -- and heroin: Both are facts we already knew, to an extent, but there's something especially heartbreaking about watching the couple's home movies and reading his love letters from their newlywed days. Paired with a current-day interview with Love ("We got on like a house on f--king fire," she says), we see first-hand how deep the pair was in both passion and drug use. 

"His fantasy was, 'I'm gonna get to $3 million, and then I'm gonna be a junkie,'" Love said. "Those are his words."

Love cops to using heroin during her pregnancy ("I knew she would be fine. I assured [Kurt] that I was built like an oxen and I could carry this pregnancy to term and not have any problems"). During one particularly gut-wrenching scene, we watch as a visibly intoxicated Kurt -- though he claims, "I'm not on drugs, I'm just tired" -- holds his daughter on his lap for a haircut.

7. "I hope I don't become so blissful I become boring:" Cobain was many things, and Montage of Heck excels in presenting the man -- not just the legend. In one of his final interviews, promoting Nirvana's final album In Utero, Kurt says, "I'm really thankful for a lot of things -- my family, my child... I hope I don't become so blissful I become boring or lose my edge."

HBO will air a bonus screening of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck on Sunday, May 10 at 6:45 p.m. The movie is also available on HBO Go and HBO Now.