Kurt & Courtney
Kurt & Courtney (93 minutes) Rated R/1998 – a documentary by Nick Broomfield. Features an appearance by Courtney Love and covers the demise of Kurt Cobain. Released through BMG Independents Home Video.
Did Courtney Love have anything to do with the death of her Nirvana-hubby Kurt Cobain? That’s the question scruffy, affable British documentarian Nick Broomfield sets out to answer in this meandering, yet intriguing film. He doesn’t quite nail it. Like a low-budget Oliver Stone, Broomfield attempts to throw a lot of theories circling around a murder conspiracy onto the screen and hopes you’ll be able to draw some sort of conclusion about it. What we’re left with is just a thumbnail peek into the complex life of a great musician and a lot of unanswered speculations about motive, logistics, and pardon the dark pun, execution of a nefarious plot.
Broomfield centered his work primarily around the findings of a private investigator, Tom Grant, who was ostensibly hired by Courtney to find Kurt shortly after he disappeared from the Southern California rehab clinic and days before the discovery of his shot-gunned corpse. Grant’s contention that Kurt and Courtney were on the outs and that money would have easily been the motive for Courtney wanting her husband killed is barely examined in all its Machiavellian chess moves. Much of what Grant has alleged in his interviews and particularly on his website raises some serious question marks on the whole tragedy, yet he comes across in the film as a bit creepy in his overly-dedicated fixation on the matter. It leaves the viewer with a doubt about his ulterior motives.
The other interview subjects that cross Broomfield’s path are all either character witnesses to Kurt and Courtney’s personalities or individuals tied to the Grant conspiracy theory. Hank Harrison, Courtney’s biological father, greets Broomfield for the first time proudly showing off the galleys to his new book capitalizing on the sensational suicide of Cobain. Harrison is pure hucksterism, bellowing out his views on Courtney’s “well-documented violent outburst pattern” with such gusto that he could sell Hibachis with the same tone as insinuating his daughter is a cold-blooded conspirator. A has-been punker and former lover of Courtney’s is featured in a long, errant interview that progresses hilariously from adulation to outright vitriol towards the mysterious woman. The only person who comes close to exuding a sense of discernment and stability is Kurt’s aunt Mari. She is seen playing tapes of Cobain as a toddler, giggling and singing into a microphone, tearing away the curtain that Broomfield has chosen to keep pretty much in place on Kurt’s character throughout the film.
As for Courtney herself, needless to say, the movie doesn’t present her in a favorable light. Her desire to iron over her drug-addled past is exhibited in a tension-filled “Today” show interview when she bitterly threatens to walk off the set if the line of narcotic questioning is not extinguished. An especially chilling moment occurs during Broomfield’s interview with author Victoria Clark, who wrote a book about Nirvana during the early ‘90s. Clark lets us listen in on an answering machine message she recorded of Courtney threatening to kill her. Indeed, Broomfield lets us know that Courtney’s vast array of lawyers hounded him at every turn in coercing his financiers to pull out of the funding of the film and in prohibiting the use of any Nirvana music in the piece. Courtney’s legal assault was apparently persuasive enough to have this film banned from its initial Sundance Festival premiere.
As a viewing experience, “Kurt & Courtney” is hit and miss. Since Broomfield was only able to talk to Courtney once (haphazardly outside of an ACLU function) and was only able to scratch the surface of the murder conspiracy, the film, as investigative journalism, leaves much to be desired. But the charm of a Broomfield documentary is the fact that the movie is just as much about him and his take on the subject as it is about the person(s) he is trying to document. While he doesn’t insinuate himself into the action as much as he did with his previous two outings in “Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam” and “Fetishes,” there are some hilarious moments when we get to see his deadpan, befuddled looks while chatting with eccentric Kurt and Courtney acquaintances. The pinnacle in absurdity is reached when the pimp for Divine Brown (she of Hugh Grant fame) escorts Broomfield out to meet El Duce, a squinty-eyed, loopy lead singer of a death-S&M metal band who claimed Courtney offered him “50 grand to whack Kurt Cobain.” The look of amiability and unease on Broomfield’s face is priceless.
Perhaps the only succinct conclusion to the swirling innuendoes and assumptions regarding Courtney’s part in Kurt’s death can be found in the testimony of the film’s Watergate-style ‘Deep Throat’ character. Midway through the documentary, a mysterious note is left on Broomfield’s car requesting a clandestine meeting. We are soon introduced to a drug-slurred woman named Chelsea and her friend who was supposedly Kurt & Courtney’s last nanny. She leaves us with the obvious, yet eternally tragic theme of the movie when she sums up the Cobain suicide. “If he wasn’t murdered, he was driven to murdering himself.”
© 2001 Ned Truslow
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