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Kurt Cobain Documentary Gets Emotional Reception In Seattle

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SEATTLE — Director Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture,” “Crossfire Hurricane”) brought his new documentary, “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” to Seattle recently.

The HBO film makes use of home movies from Cobain’s childhood, his time with his wife, Courtney Love, and later their infant daughter, Frances Bean. It also relies heavily on his journals, art and personal recordings.

HBO hosted a screening last week in Seattle for a crowd that included the press, but also those close to Cobain such as Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt; producer Steve Fisk; Nirvana publicist Susie Tennant; rock photographer Charles Peterson; and Marco Collins, a longtime Seattle DJ and friend of Cobain’s.

The morning after, Morgen reflected on seeing the film in the town where Cobain’s legacy is perhaps at its most pure, and the question-and-answer session that was supposed to be with him and EMP senior curator Jacob McMurray, but was with the audience instead.

Q: How was it to screen the film in Seattle? It was more of a Truth Squad than an audience, no?

A: Before the screening started, I was standing around in the lobby and a woman came up to me and said, “I was a friend of Kurt’s,” and she was staring right through me, and locked eyes with me, and I knew it was gonna set the tone for the evening and I said to myself, “This is going to get interesting.”

The organizers thought it would be best if the Q&A after the film was a moderated discussion. But as I was walking to the stage, I said, “I am taking questions from the audience. I am not going to hide behind the microphone. Let’s go.” And it was one of the most memorable and engaging Q&As I’ve ever participated in.

Q: One woman who turned out to be frequent Cobain photographer Alice Wheeler said she thought the film was told through Courtney Love’s point of view, and you got pretty defensive.

(“It’s my point of view,” Morgen answered at the Q&A, “embraced by her daughter. She had nothing to do with it. She gave me the rights to the material and that was it. She walked away, didn’t see the film until it was finished, three days before it premiered at Sundance. Unless you want to look me in the … eye and tell me, this is Courtney’s point of view, it’s not.”)

A: I never let myself respond to any of that stuff. When you see the film, I don’t know how you can arrive at that conclusion. When you are inside the “conspiracy,” you know the truth. I’ll strip down naked and you can ask me anything you want. I have nothing to hide. I know, and I know that Courtney Love did something that no one else in that room did, which was give me the keys to her apartment and let me do whatever I wanted. Having that authorship of the film was essential.

Maybe that woman had experiences when she was around Kurt and she thought it was not represented in the film. But what I put in the film was how I experienced it through these primary sources.

The last home movie that exists with Kurt and Courtney is in the bathroom from Christmas in 1993. There’s that moment that Courtney says, “You know, I’m really happy right now,” and Kurt says, “Me, too.”

That’s not a staged scene and that’s what I saw and that’s what I experienced and that’s what I put in the movie.

Q: What did you learn on this visit to Seattle that you didn’t know before? Who did you meet?

A: Chad Cobain was there last night. Kurt’s half-brother. Don and Jenny’s son. And I was so happy. There was the one person in the room whose opinion mattered to me. I don’t want to misquote him, but he had a very positive response to the film and he came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for what you said about my dad.”

I think Don’s been made out to be the villain of the story in Kurt’s mythology of his life and that wasn’t my experience.

Also Bruce Pavitt. I met with Bruce the last time I was in Seattle and we had a really long heart-to-heart and I walked him through the narrative and he said, “I think you’ve got it, man.” It was great to show Bruce the finished film. And everyone.

Q: Where do you go with it from here?

A: I intend to come back here. Let’s engage with fans, let’s engage with the public and people who knew him. There is sort of an open-door policy.

I put my heart and soul into this film and this was very personal and I am more than happy to discuss, debate any of the decisions we made.

But at the end of the day, there was one person whose opinion mattered most of all. And that was Frances.

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Kurt Cobain Documentary Gets Emotional Reception In Seattle