Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kurt and Courtney

Kurt and Courtney is a difficult documentary following a filmmaker, Nick Bloomfield, trying to make a documentary about Kurt Cobain while being thwarted by Cobain's widow, Courtney Love. I say difficult because the film demonizes Love while itself showing how so many have demonized her.
As a fan of both Nirvana and Hole, I found myself fascinated with many aspects of the story. For Nirvana fans, what really drove Cobain to suicide will always be the Holy Grail. Nirvana was a band seemingly created for the teenager with suicidal tendencies, since it acknowledged the agony so many teenagers face, but also armed them with anger, exhilarating them with it to the point of strength. Cobain's suicide will always hum in the background of his music and in the back of fans' minds.
The film does successfully show a world where many people were more than happy to exploit Cobain. The film wants to point the audience at Love's exploitation, but it inevitably shows that she was in no way the only one (or, it could easily be argued, the worse, since Love appeared to be pushing Cobain towards his full potential and not simply using him.) Several times in the film, Bloomfield shows people who claim to have known Cobain, but without any real evidence. Instead, they want to bask in the spotlight, even if it's one of someone else's making.
The hatred directed towards Love, an ambitious woman, was more fascinating and far more telling than the rest of the movie. Many of the men in the film complain that Love is too ambitious, one discussing how she made lists of ideas to help promote a punk rock boyfriend in her pre-Cobain life. Instead of seeing this for what it probably was, a woman who wanted her lovers to succeed at what they loved doing, they complain that she was using them, even to the point where one former lover complained that he would have committed suicide had they stayed together.
Love's father is particularly telling. In the interviews with him, he calls his daughter all sorts of nasty names and complains, ultimately, that she wasn't obedient enough. If anything, I found myself thinking that Love grew up with that kind of patriarchy and rebelled aganist it. As a feminist, I found myself liking Love more than I previously did.
Perhaps the real problem was that Love, who had ambitions not only for Cobain, but for herself, wasn't womanly enough. I was saddened to see that the film made no mention of the inherent misogyny in so much rock music, or that Love, in being an active part of Cobain's music career, was really subverting traditional ideas about women's place in art, who wanted to not only serve as muse but as a creator. It also then makes Cobain look like he was without agency, which, as a young white man with millions of dollars and fans, he most certainly was not. Cobain himself was a vehement feminist, and would probably be disappointed that the discussion of his suicide has focused mostly on his "evil" wife instead of on the more obvious and less easy answers for why people kill themselves.

The only thing in the film I can't completely dispute at this time is the scenes involved the ACLU. Love herself has been a member of the organization for many years. Bloomfield goes to one of their dinners to interview her publicly over Cobain's death. The scene included in the documentary shows her about to give a speech as Bloomfield interrupts to ask her questions. It should be pointed out that Love has the right to refuse interviews and, since she is in partial control of Nirvana's music, also has the right to refuse Bloomfield's request to feature Nirvana's music in the documentary. In harassing her at a dinner where she is about to give a speech, he himself is cutting off her right to speak. There's something almost stalker-like about Bloomfield and his quest to get Love in the film. Given that Bloomfield doesn't lack for interviewees or material, why he needed to say anything beyond "Love refused to be interviewed and has not allowed me the rights to Nirvana's music for this documentary" is unclear.
Bloomfield concludes at the end of the film that there isn't enough evidence to point to Cobain's murder. He does, however, finger Love as the largest contributor to Cobain's suicide. Instead of depicting it as it most probably was, marital issues compounded by fame, drugs and depression, Bloomfield makes Love the villain, who drove Cobain to kill himself. It's irresponsible at best to twist the story this way, instead of telling the truth: that the only one who could possibly shed light on Cobain's suicide is Cobain himself, and that even if we could talk to the dead, there's a chance not even he fully understands what drove him to self-annihilation.

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