Kurt And Courtney
Being Courtney means never having to say you're sorry.
Thursday, May 14, 1998
About the only conclusion one can draw from Kurt and Courtney, director Nick Broomfield''s engrossing and darkly funny documentary about the life and death of grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, is that in our invasive, media-driven obsession with celebrity, there are no longer any truths to set us free.
Ostensibly an investigation into charges that Courtney Love conspired to kill Cobain in order to secure his fortune before he finalized plans for a divorce, Kurt and Courtney quickly emerges as a fascinating foray into the fringes of celebrity and the desperate voyeurism that attaches itself to the famous, all in the name of knowing the truth.
Kurt and Courtney is a masterpiece of cinema verit, as much about Broomfield''s own quest to uncover the "truth" behind Cobain''s suicide as it is an investigation of the "facts" surrounding Cobain''s death.
Some of the film''s funniest moments occur when Broomfield turns the camera on himself and his efforts to confront the elusive Courtney with the charge that she murdered her husband.
Soliciting the advice and aid of two "stalkerazzi," Broomfield first infiltrates a closed recording session with Love and her band, which turns up little. Much later in the film, Broomfield and his compatriots confront Love at an ACLU dinner where she has been invited to present an award.
Broomfield and his colleagues finally confront Love, but are so bowed under by her "celebrity" that they chicken out, and are forced to explain their cowardice to Broomfield''s camera. In a final moment of superb guerilla filmmaking, Broomfield mounts the stage of the awards dinner to confront what he sees as the ACLU and Love''s hypocrisy, only to be whisked off the stage before he can finish his speech.
Broomfield sets out on his quest with few preconceptions about what he will uncover. What makes Kurt and Courtney so absorbing is Broomfield''s willingness to take the audience along for the ride in his attempt to uncover the truth. Broomfield''s decidedly British aplomb provides a hilarious counterpoint to the host of crazies he interviews for his film.
Unfortunately, any documentary that relies on junkies for the truth is in trouble from the start, and Broomfield quickly realizes he will never get any definitive answers from any of the subjects he interviews. Despite all the assertions that Love had a direct hand in Cobain''s death, Broomfield remains doubtful about the truth and motives behind those charges.
It is Broomfield''s cast of characters, as much as his story itself, that makes Kurt and Courtney so mesmerizing. Broomfield stumbles upon a veritable freak show of ex-hangers on, junkies and celebrity worshippers who knew Cobain and Love in their various incarnations over the years. No fevered vision of hell can compare with the folks Broomfield digs up in his investigation.
There is Love''s father Hank Harrison, a former manager of The Grateful Dead and one of Love''s chief accusers whose idea of "tough love" was to raise his young daughter with the help of a couple of vicious pit bulls.
Another standout is El Duce, a notorious "porn" rocker whose act favored black executioner hoods, whips and chains; and who claimed Love offered him $50,000 to "whack" Cobain. (The fact that Broomfield was only able to track down El Duce with the help of the pimp of Hugh Grant''s inamorata Divine Brown tells you all you need to know about the tone of Broomfield''s film.)
By all accounts, Love was a viciously ambitious succubus who locked onto Cobain in her single-minded pursuit of the brass ring. Overweaning ambition is not a crime, but the resentment over Love is so palpable that the nicest thing former friends and acquaintances have to say about her is that they don''t think she pulled the trigger herself.
Much of Kurt and Courtney''s notoriety is due to efforts by Love and her attorneys to block the release of the film, both at the Sundance Film Festival last January and at its premiere at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco in February.
Given the viciousness of the attacks on Love, one can''t necessarily fault her for trying to block Broomfield''s film. Love could have defused much of the film''s impact by agreeing to speak with Broomfield, but her refusal to do so--and her reputation for verbally and physically assaulting journalists--only plays to Broomfield''s hand.
For all of its depressing darkness, Kurt and Courtney does achieve moments of great poignancy. To hear a tape recording of a 2-year-old Cobain singing into his Aunt Mary''s tape recorder, or to peruse old family photos of a bright, smiling tousle-haired young boy seemingly full of hope and happiness, is to wonder why the American dream of success too often spins off into such ugly nightmares.
Kurt and Courtney is ultimately redeemed by Cobain''s Aunt Mary, whose religious faith and efforts to help other kids avoid her nephew''s fate ends the film on a more hopeful note.
Despite the insistence of Harrison and others that Cobain was murdered, there is no convincing evidence that Cobain''s death was anything but a suicide. Whether he was driven to the act by Love or more personal demons, one can only conclude that given the price of success in America today, failure may be its own reward.