Kurt and Courtney (1998)

Rating: B-

Dir: Nick Broomfield

Inspired by viewing his Sarah Palin documentary, I watched Broomfield’s most famous work, in which he travels to the Pacific North-West to make a film about Kurt Cobain and his death. He talks to those who knew the singer, such as his aunt Mary, who was the first person to record Cobain’s musical leanings. However, the tack then largely shifts into the circumstances of his death, with some people, most notably PI Tom Grant (whom I exchanged emails with, way back, for a TC article that never materialized) and “rape metal” singer El Duce, who claims Kurt’s wife Courtney Love offered El Duce fifty grand to kill her husband, and passed a polygraph test on the topic. This does not sit well with Love, who starts to apply pressure to Broomfield’s funders to back out of the project (she later got Sundance to cancel their screening).

The odd thing is, after considering the evidence, Broomfield doesn’t think Cobain was murdered – personally, I’ve got an open mind on this, given the general acknowledgement he was going to leave Love, and the curious death of El Duce, hit by a train shortly after being interviewed for the film. What he does, however, is provide a scathing indictment of Love, and her obsession with harassing and threatening bodily harm on any journalists she perceives as working on material of which she disapproves. She is all but absent from the film: the only direct interview is a few seconds as she arrives to be the keynote speaker at an ACLU awards dinner; the irony of this is not lost on Broomfield.

What I love about Broomfield is his willingness to let the story evolve as things go along. He may have a plan, but if things unfold in an unexpected direction, he’s happy to take it. However, that doesn’t really work for him here, because the opening third to a half, documenting Cobain’s rise and fall, is largely irrelevant to the true topic – control freak, Courtney Love, along with her violent tendencies and hypocrisy. That’s rather more interesting to me than another dead rock-star, so the interview footage of Cobain is only of passing note. However, I appreciated the open-ended nature of the film; Broomfield not only goes in with no agenda, he doesn’t leave with one. Except, perhaps, to stay at least 500 feet away from Ms. Love, which seems more than sensible to me.