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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Why the heck would anyone bother with a film about Nirvana?

They're really not one of "my" bands. Not a group whose music I've ever taken to my crabby old heart, listened to intently or been in any way particularly moved by.

No, Nirvana really weren't able to transport me to any state of otherworldly bliss. Nevermind! Still, they had their moments. I recall that voguish-at-the-time unplugged thing they did - not bad. And I do like a few of their songs.

But actually, I enjoyed the Cobain: Montage Of Heck film just as much - more, perhaps - than the blown-out rock stuff from the band itself. Here we're in Control-type territory - a film about a supposedly cult band (ie an excessively venerated outfit who are talked about incessantly) which sensibly focuses not on the music but on the complexity of a key figure.

I normally hate films about music, especially biopics, but just as Anton Corbijn's dramatisation of Ian Curtis's increasing unhappiness in Joy Division worked because it devoted serious time to his relationships, I reckon Brett Morgen's documentary succeeds because it dwells on Kurt Cobain's childhood and his key relationships. I can't pretend to judge how fair a representation of his life it is, but certainly the Heck film's account of an insecure but driven person struggling to cope with the pressure of fame, masculinity, fatherhood (he seems OK in this area actually), of being creative and of not being a sell-out - well, it all seems convincing enough. MTV-hyped, stadium-filling mega-success never seemed a very sensible option for such a self-doubting person, but ... he also seemed to crave it.

Morgen's film is particularly good, I thought, in its more out-there sequences - rapid-fire clips of post-war regular America (square-jawed fathers, shopping malls), biology stock shots of intestines (to denote Cobain's stomach problems), the animated scenes showing a super-bleak Aberdeen in Washington state, the repeated (and surprisingly not-at-all-boring) shots of Cobain's journals with his scrawled lyrics and self-hating scribblings. I didn't so much like the over-lengthy home movie stuff shot by Cobain and Courtney Love with their baby daughter. Kinda overdone, I thought. (Yeah, OK, I get it. Postmodern self-ironising of their drug-addled rock star personae. Fine, fine).

So yes, an interesting film regardless of whether so-called grunge music - stadium-sized or otherwise - is in any way your thing. And if the ICA's screening of it is typical, the clips of Nirvana blasting out some of their music is mixed extremely high in the soundtrack - it must be the loudest music I've ever heard in a cinema. I have to say, it sounded ... good, Krist Novoselic's surprisingly heavy bass especially.

As it happened I only saw the Nirvana film by chance, having actually intended to see Thom Andersen's The Thoughts That Once We Had. Sorry Brett! Andersen's film is billed as the "meticulous product of years of reading and lecturing about Deleuze’s CinĂ©ma" - yes, delirious Deleuzian cinema, a montage of Von Sternberg and bits of Godard. Great! Here and there Cobain: Montage Of Heck has some of this near-delirious inventiveness.

Being the dull, Nirvana t-shirt-wearing clone you probably are, you might go to see this film for the music but you'll ... stay for the sad story and the cinematic playfulness. Or, er, you'll probably go to see Fast & Furious 7 instead ...

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