Thursday, 17 May 2007
KURT & COURTNEY
Kurt and Courtney (1998) dir. Nick Broomfield
Nick Broomfield has made a career of examining the lives of celebrities and exploiting them in the form of revealing and controversial documentaries. But Broomfield’s documentaries elevate themselves above an episode of, say, Hard Copy, or Dateline NBC, because of his own personality which he injects onto his films. As with Michael Moore, Broomfield’s docs are as much about his attempts to get the film made as the subject itself.
Kurt Cobain died in April 8, 1994, the same week Courtney Love’s band Hole debuted their first album. Coincidence? Perhaps not. That’s what the documentary purports to examine. Broomfield meets one-by-one some of the couple's closest friends, family and associates to examine the lives of the doomed rock star and his soon-to-be-famous wife. But we soon discover the film is not really about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, but the cult of personality and the shameful effect of celebrity their lives have had on the people around them.
Take for example Courtney’s father, Hank Harrison, a bull of a man, who’s been disowned by his daughter and has written two books on Kurt without even knowing the man. In fact, one of his books is a conspiracy theory accusing Courtney (his own daughter!) of being an accomplice to Kurt’s murder. When asked why write he'd book claiming his daughter is responsible for murdering Kurt Cobain, Hank says it’s “tough love”.
Broomfield surrounds himself with a sordid cast of seedy characters, junkies and former indie-punk rockers. One of the most memorable is El Duce, a hillybilly rockstar, who claims Courtney offered him $50,000 to ‘wack’ Kurt Cobain. Or the goth girl who claims to have photos of her and Courtney shooting heroin – the photos never do show up. Or the private investigator, Tom Grant, who was hired by Courtney to find Kurt after he disappeared, who continues to lobby the conspiracy theory of Kurt’s death.
Courtney, herself, is perhaps the biggest personality. We piece together from the interviews with her colleagues a personality driven toward success and celebrity at all costs. Most describe Kurt and Courtney’s relationship as dominated by Courtney in order to further her own career as a rock star and pseudo-celebrity. The personality of Courtney eventually comes to dominate the documentary. A subplot of the film is the attempt of Courtney to subjugate all the bad press around her, including the Broomfield himself.
Nick Broomfield, like Werner Herzog, is unintentionally hilarious. His lazy voiceover describing his interviews and his approach to the documentary sounds like an essay written in a high school writer’s class. It’s taken very seriously, but it’s also vacant, empty and faux-intellectual. In the end it’s an effective way to bring the audience into the sordid subject matter he specializes in. Broomfield is often featured on camera, creeping into the shot, carrying his trademark Nagra, headphones, and boom pole. This is his uniform and combined with his slight stature, soothing British accent, he's able to weasel his way into people’s lives and become part of the story.
Perhaps Dateline NBC and Nick Broomfield aren’t that much different. The salacious topics, the guerrilla-style interviews make for great viewing, but Broomfield’s likeable personality and naïve curiosity make him stand out as a personality as compelling and pervasive as Courtney Love.