Starring Nick Broomfield, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love Directed by Nick Broomfield Opens July 3, Cert tbc, 99 mins
FOR FANS of Kurt and/or Courtney, but unfamiliar with documentary-maker Nick Broomfield, this film might prove jaw-droppingly offensive. For Broomfield aficionados, its a treat – as comic, bizarre and pathetically revealing as anything he’s done. Last year’s Fetishes disappointed some, inasmuch as the subject matter of the film – S&M – was going on right under Broomfield’s nose. Kurt And Courtney sees him back where he’s happiest – on the chase after his subject. Back-and-forth earphone conversations, red herring interviewees, Camcorder mishaps, shock raids on startled receptionists – it’s vintage Broomfield.
Kurt And Courtney begins with a retrospective profile of Cobain, re-exploring the dreary suburbs he grew up in, the graffitied bridge under which he hid away from the world in times of crisis. Most poignant and eerie are tapes played by Kurt’s aunt of the two-year-old Cobain squawking his take on The Monkees. These joyous, raucous squeals at once ironically prefigure his future while reminding us of an innocence that was violated and lost forever somewhere down the line.
Kurt’s aunt, whose interviews top and tail the documentary, emerges as the most decent character in this film. She’s the only one whose life hasn’t been irretrievably soiled either by association with Kurt or Courtney, or having been swamped by the mire of the Seattle grunge scene and its attendant lifestyle of drugs, despair and delusion. There’s an array of characters bearing grudges against Courtney – including former boyfriend and defunct rocker Roz, who unearths old papers of Courtney’s in which she planned her future path to fame, including making friends with Michael Stipe. And when he happens to learn (probably via Broomfield) that Courtney’s been bad-mouthing him in the press, he loses it to camera (“Don’t fuck with me Courtney…sorry, you will end up as Frances Farmer, I don’t care!”), embarrassing even himself at his long-festering jealousy and resentment.
Broomfield looks in at a Dwarves gig, which reveals the degeneration of the Seattle rock scene minus Kurt’s guidance, and whistles up a couple of characters who are prepared to say they knew Kurt and Courtney. Though, for an extra 50 bucks, you suspect they’d tell you where Lord Lucan was. This seemingly futile pursuit of character witnesses reaches an apotheosis in the hilarious (and possibly fictitious) El Duce, who swears Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to whack Cobain.
There are the usual mishaps. At one point, the crew bursts into the wrong apartment for an interview. And, on entering a posh hotel where Courtney had first hooked up with private detective Tom Grant, Broomfield – in big headphones and flanked by his team – is confronted by a horrified hotel manager on the point of ringing for the Men In Black. “We wondered if we could rent a room?” proffers Broomfield, sheepishly.
All this might resemble a rerun of the Rutles documentary – but Broomfield knows what he’s doing. Hank Harrison, Courtney’s estranged father, initially seems not too wacko, even as he’s plugging his book on his daughter. But Broomfield returns to him time and time again until he gets what he wants in the can: a to-camera harangue against Courtney, with whom he clearly has had no contact in years. It’s not hard to see why.
As Courtney’s people try to put the mockers on Broomfield, the film turns against her, culminating in Broomfield storming the podium at an ACLU bash to castigate her. It’s probably sheer frustration at not being able to get her co-operation that fuels his anger, as much as the issue of censorship.
Kurt And Courtney doesn’t uncover final truths, but is – like all Broomfield documentaries – an excruciatingly entertaining survey of the comedie humaine. In a more perfect society, they would make Courtney watch it.
© David Stubbs, Uncut, July 1998