Review of 'Kurt and Courtney' documentary
By Sarah Allen
"Kurt and Courtney" isn't nearly as shocking as you might think. The documentary about music icon Kurt Cobain and his bad-girl-turned-covergirl wife, Courtney Love, made national headlines when it was banned at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January.
So, you assume, if it was a taboo at Sundance, that bastion of independent voices and visions, it must be really scandalous.
But the truth is, the film was pulled because Love's lawyers threatened by a lawsuit, saying music by Cobain's group Nirvana was used on the film's soundtrack with permission. Sundance organizers didn't seem particularly interested in litigating over one festival entry.
Also, "Kurt and Courtney," while it includes some compelling and troubling moments, is not going to shock your socks off. Minus the Nirvana recordings, it will open today for its world premiere at the Roxie in San Francisco.
Seasoned documentarian Nick Broomfield does a fine job recounting the tragic life of Cobain, who was found dead at his Seattle home on April 5 [sic], 1994. Cobain said in a suicide not that he couldn't handle the pressure of fame. He was a father, heroin addict, husband, and rock star. He is now a legend.
Broomfield ("Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam," "Fetishes") has said he originally intended to make "Kurt and Courtney" a bio-pic. It's a shame he didn't follow though on that idea because his investigation into Cobain's past is appealing.
The filmmaker visits Cobain's Aunt Mary, also a musician, who recorded her nephew's voice when he was 2 years old. We watch Mary's expression change from happy to sad as she listens to her tape of the toddler's sing-songy voice. When he was a teen, Mary would let him use her sound mix to record his music. She's plays Cobain's first song, noting that the "drum" he uses is an empty suitcase. She also recalls that the 15-year-old turned up his nose at the thought of producing a drum sound by using the percussion mode on Mary's synthesizer.
Broomfield's methods are provocative. He plays a prominent role in his documentaries, usually because his subjects are evasive he has to chase them down. There's evidence of this in "Kurt and Courtney." The camera bobs as Broomfield walks through the home of Cobain's first girlfriend, Tracy Miranda [sic], who says he used to enjoy shooting his BB gun at buildings across the street. We see Cobain's house in Olympia, Wash., where he attended Evergreen State College. [sic!]
But then Broomfield introduces us to a cast of characters who come across as less than reliable. There's Amy, who brags about having shot heroin with Cobain and Love numerous times. But when Broomfield asks to see the photos she claims she has of the three of them, Amy dodges him.
Love's father, Hank Harrison, has plenty to say about his wild-child daughter. He produces a poem he says Love wrote when she was a teen living in Ireland. He says that he forged his daughter's handwriting while producing a copy of a poem because he wanted the reader to know that Love wrote it. As if that makes any sense, Hank.
As it explores more of these peripheral characters and the issues surrounding Cobain's death, Broomfield's film begins to lose its continuity. The filmmaker has too much to do here. He wants to examine Love and Cobain's lives, Cobain's suicide, and those who espouse the theory that Love was complicit in the Nirvana star's death. When Love won't grant Broomfield an interview and she begins her efforts to pull the plug on his project, the film refocuses on freedom-of-speech issues. It's all over the place.
Broomfield's interview subjects and images are colorful, yes, but also sad in many cases. As he drives around Washington and Oregon, he films some of the neighborhood streets.
They all look eerily similar -- with lone trees, broken-down cars, tract housing, and sparse traffic. It's not hard to imagine Cobain wondering down them as a ateen, wondering where his life was headed.