Digesting an Icon: The First Trailer for Montage of Heck

Like a naked baby swimming for years after an uncatchable fish-hooked dollar bill, the first trailer for the long-anticipated, much misconstrued Kurt Cobain documentary, Cobain: Montage of Heck, surfaced online yesterday via Yahoo. The film, which was directed by Brett Morgen, already premiered at Sundance earlier this year, but this first trailer is still something to behold. So let’s set aside all the rumors of Grohl-lessness and dig into this two and a half minute four-course meal:

First Course: The Fan Service.

The trailer opens with a whole lot of tragicomic mythology footage of Kurt as a kid. He’s two-years old, a birthday cake tells us at some point during this too-brief montage. He plays a toy guitar. He questions his audience’s identity. He tries to make earth-bound objects, such as pull string cars, fly. He’s a higher being who, for the first time of his mostly blurry existence, is recognizing the cramped interior of humanity’s imposed mortal limits. He is Kurt Cobain.

Second course: A Second Helping of Fan Service.

After a Universal Studios title card reminds us that Kurt probably would have hated everything about this documentary, we’re treated to some light A Scanner Darkly interpretations of the provocative, contradictory genius’s Superhero origin story. Here, our animated pre-hero leafs through records with a stray string of transiently blonde hair hanging over the left side of his face like the preliminary section of a mask. He’s then lit by the blinding white light of an oncoming train, his eyes unaverted, acid-washed jeans rippling in the steel beast’s wind.  Soon after he’s shown leaving a docile suburban home to little fanfare with a single bag slung over a slumped shoulder.  He’s Kal-El if Kal-El crashed into 1967 Aberdeen.

Third Course: Reminder That This is a Documentary About the Provocative, Contradictory Genius Who Wrote “Rape Me”.

About thirty different visual styles start blurring into one another like paint strokes that weren’t given time to dry. The result is something of a mess, sure, but it’s an assured and momentous one. There’s no telling if the documentary will be paced like this, or if it will flip this arbitrarily between advanced film school stations, but there’s also no denying that this section of the trailer is the only part that resembles something Kurt might’ve cut together. There’s a whiff here of some of the more coherent genre-shredding sequences in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, only the final visual of this trailer’s sequence is far better than anything Stone could’ve come up with. Most likely, it’s because the shot isn’t entirely staged. In it, Kurt falls backwards into a blooming spotlight that’s held just tightly enough by the camera, and for a beat, it looks as if he’s going to land in a Jesus pose, which he does, but the clip is brilliantly permitted to go past that moment, to when Kurt’s body goes completely limp and the iconography drains from the image. This is why you make a Kurt Cobain documentary.

Fourth Course: Something You Weren’t Expecting.

A funny thing happens at trailer’s 1:35 mark: it becomes a preview for an entirely different movie. And it’s this movie that I’m desperate to see. All of a sudden, we’re being given a film about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s marriage (and eventual parenthood), and it’s all coming in at a straight angle. The baby film rolls, a few pictures of late-night feedings fade through each other, and Kurt’s shown balancing a kitten on his shoulder. The kids are given a chance, and even if we all know that the horror will soon flood through their garage doors like some kind of rogue plague, the fact that a Kurt Cobain documentary makes room for a single entry of serenity should be reason enough to trust it. Or, at least, to give it a shot.

You can catch Cobain: Montage of Heck on HBO starting May 4th.

Featured Image courtesy of Sundance Institute

1 Comment

  1. Lauren S

    March 12, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    First off, I love the way you broke this article down. And I agree, the last part of the trailer excites me the most.

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