Sundance 2015 Interview: Brett Morgen on ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’

Brett Morgen directed one of the most talked about films at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, an emotionally raw motion picture that paints a portrait of the late Nirvana frontman as a sad soul, reaching out for a family that seemingly eluded him. With unprecedented access to Kurt Cobain’s writings, audio recordings, home movies, friends and family, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck invites audiences into the musician’s inner world, where they will be confronted by what – as near as anyone can tell – Kurt Cobain was really feeling throughout his childhood, musical success, marriage to Courtney Love and lengthy heroin addiction.

I spoke to Brett Morgen over the phone on the last days of the Sundance Film Festival and tried to put my reaction to his film into the proper words. We had a long discussion about how Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck has been making people feel, what he learned about Cobain’s life and suicide, and why Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman does not appear in the documentary outside of archival footage. (Short version: Grohl recorded his interview after Morgen locked picture, but it’s possible that he may show up in a future edit.)

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck will premiere on HBO on May 4, 2015 after an as yet unscheduled theatrical run from Universal.


Check Out: Sundance Review: ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’ Will Drain You


CraveOnline: I saw the film at Sundance, and I wonder if this is the reaction you were going for, and I mean this in a positive way: I left the theater really pissed. Just pissed off about what happened to Kurt Cobain and, honestly, what happened to the state of music. 

Brett Morgen: I mean, I’m not pissed off myself when the movie’s over. When you say what was the reaction, obviously, any reaction is good other than indifferent, right? At the end of the film I’m more sad, I guess. I don’t know about pissed. I’ve never been pissed, man. No, that’s not something… It’s positive that you felt that way, you know what I mean?


Why were you pissed?

Because it reopened this wound, and I felt so bad for Kurt Cobain…


And I felt like I had a better sense of what he was going through, and how tortured he was and how unfair it was…

I hear everything you’re saying, William. To me, I’m left feeling [more] sad than pissed, because I don’t blame any one person in particular. It’s like a whole collective. The whole situation is just tragic. Who would you be pissed at?

I think I’m mad at the universe. Does that make sense?

It does, man. Like I said, I personally am haunted by it, and I’m left feeling like I wish we could have altered the course. It’s almost wanting to go back in a time machine, but where would you take it to? Where do you get off the time machine? If I said, “Where do you get off the time machine to go back and alter the course for Kurt?” You may have to go back to the beginning.

I don’t know.

If you watch the film, you may have to go back to Kurt as a toddler. 

Would I go back and tell his Mom to maybe separate from her husband earlier, before they could form these bonds that would make their separation that much more traumatic for him? I don’t know. But then we might never have Nirvana, is the question.

Yeah, I don’t know if the separation was the thing, man. I think it was before the separation. Kurt used to say that he had a happy childhood until the divorce. I don’t believe that at all. I think the film shows that he did not have a happy childhood until the divorce. I mean, he had a happy childhood until he was about three, in that it was so idyllic in those first couple years, and he was so worshipped by his extended family that it was impossible to ever get that back.