Emotional journalism (Montage of Heck mini-review)


Saw Montage of Heck. Everybody in my age group had better just go and see it. Shhhh. Just go. I can tell you that I thought it was “good,” but I can’t tell you whether I’d bother to argue with anyone about its artistic merit, since nostalgia turns you into a drooling, biased lump. Montage of Heck pours the nostalgia over you like syrup, and you will dance in it. You will feel young and old at the same time. You’ll remember what complete surrender to chaotic emotion does to your body. It might make you cry, or break out, or something. If you are a little too invested in your status as a functioning adult, your own personal march to the grave, it might just make you grumpy. As soon as the thought “kids these days just don’t get it” crosses your mind, you’re out of the critic’s game, at least in the world of pop culture. But that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from the twisted walk down memory lane this film offers. It’s intoxicating. It’s morbid, indulgent and completely masturbatory. It is exactly like teenage-hood.

Even though it didn’t sound that way to our parents, the nineties offered a reasonably diverse soundtrack for us to drink, ache and make out to. So a lot of you won’t have been Nirvana fans. That’s okay. (you fucking posers). Montage of Heck does a great job of invoking the nineties in general, with just enough slick “Mad Men Presents: the fifties!” era stylization to… I don’t know… what does that do exactly? Make it feel safe for us to indulge? True stories that are too real can be problematic. And that’s a risk filmmaker Brett Morgan took in assembling the packaged memories of a man who died violently and publicly. It’s not nice to watch a real person publicly implode. Don Draper is not a real person, but Kurt Cobain was, even if his fame made it nearly impossible for us to see him that way. Although we may search for the most authentic, accessible idols entertainment can provide, they’re still idols. Far away from us. So, aside from the glitzy-grungy memory machine Montage of Heck delivers, some rumination on the fame-game and fabricated emotional connections to highly emotional celebrities will keep some viewers busy. How does one find empathy for a beetle on a pin board?

Cobain is beautiful and doomed. If we really empathized with Cobain, and saw him as a human being, would we be able to watch his raw-recorded memoirs without conscience? And I’m not just talking about Cobain here. Courtney Love and Francis Bean are also laid bare, the latter being only an infant at the time these home videos were filmed. Montage of Heck reminds us that before we the people met Frances Bean, we’d been told that her mom shot heroin while pregnant. Now ruminate on that for a second. A scene where a clearly high Cobain holds his daughter on his lap while Courtney Love cuts her hair is upsetting. It upset me. Because it really happened, and because I bought a ticket to watch it.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Frances Bean’s own comment on the film is smooth and professional.

It’s emotional journalism. It’s the closest thing to having Kurt tell his own story in his own words – by his own aesthetic, his own perception of the world. It paints a portrait of a man attempting to cope with being a human.

It’s easier to see Kurt Cobain as a character, as a portrait of a man attempting to cope with a trope. It’s easier for all of us. It’s easier to indulge in the dream of the nineties for two hours, then leave the theatre. Maybe bum a cigarette off some kid at the Skytrain station and get a few puffs in to it on your front porch before you remembered why you quit smoking. Go inside, brush your teeth, and go to bed. That’s when you’ll be back to feeling old again. Was it worth that two hours?

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