Wednesday, June 06, 2007

KURT AND COURTNEY - the purist and the parasite?

British documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield started off making a film about Kurt Cobain, his music and the North-west Grunge scene, financed in part by MTV. As he started to investigate the controversy surrounding Cobain's suicide he began to counter opposition. Courtney Love refused the rights to Cobain's music. Her representation put pressure on the financiers and they pulled funding in the middle of the shoot. Even the BBC got the jitters. In a final gasp, Courtney Love got the movie pulled from Sundance - a move that backfired in terms of PR, given that Broomfield was one of the festival's judges that year.

As the pressure was applied during the filming process, the documentary switched from being about Kurt and his music, to being about the nature of Kurt and Courtney's relationship and about artistic freedom.

On the former, Broomfield interviews Cobain's old friends as well as Love's old boyfriend, father and other kooks. Most of them regard Kurt as a caring, sensitive but deeply depressed individual. They regard Courtney Love at best as a money-grabbing, ambitious, controlling parasite. At worst, they regard her as an accessory to murderer. Broomfield ultimately seems to come down in favour of the theory that Cobain did commit suicide but that Love's presence contributed to his desperation. But he does give the assorted kooks a lot of screen time and his documentary style - being shown in frame, microphone in hand, leading his witnesses - makes him seem less objective than he probably is.

Arguably the bigger theme of the film is the difficulty of achieving artistic freedom in an industry dominated by big corporations. That the studios backed out of the film is depressing but expected. The bigger shock is to see Love championed by the ACLU, and one of the most sinister scenes sees Broomfield bundled off an ACLU podium for daring to point out the hypocrisy of such an award.

This is then, a fascinating documentary, despite my scepticism about Broomfield's style. It is less an expose of Love's ambition as a chronicle of how well-oiled PR machines work. After all, Pat Kingsley was no more voracious in her defence of Love than she used to be of Tom Cruise's interests. And I'm sure that process is repeated for every major star.

KURT AND COURTNEY was released in 1998 and is available on DVD.

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