It seems a Kurt Cobain biopic is genuinely in the works and we’ll see something at some point in the next couple years; I’ll take a wild stab in the dark and bet on April 2014…Any takers?
The book Cobain Unseen by Charles Cross was perhaps the first work to try and integrate Kurt’s work outside of music. While leaving aside, for the moment, commentary on the quality or otherwise of Kurt’s art works (whether videos, sound collages, paintings, installations, animation, etc.) what seems significant is the scale of ambition and the willingness to experiment in other arenas. I would argue that what distinguishes a true artist is that the priority is simply to create and to express the internal vision for its own sake regardless of audience or commercial gain.
The concept mentioned for the film in which Kurt Cobain’s own works will be incorporated to try and relay his story actually seems an intriguing one. The market has been flooded with semi-interesting interview discs, the artful but slow Last Days by Gus Van Sant, plenty of live footage but there genuinely is a gap for a comprehensive look at the life of Kurt Cobain. The choice of Brett Morgen as director doesn’t set off any alarm bells; he’s an experienced and serious documentary producer with some well-respected work in the back catalogue and if his willingness to experiment with the medium allows Kurt’s own dalliances with visual work to gain greater acknowledgement then that’s all to the good.
What intrigues me is that Kurt’s central ambition in life seems to have been not just music, but to make art, as a wider concept, an integral part of his way of living. It’s meaningful, in my view, that the only commercial or career vision he ever expressed in his songs was that of a folk artist making pictures from recovered debris as featured in Mrs. Butterworth and echoed in Swap Meet. He seems to have surrounded himself, as soon as he was renting a home, with his own creations, turning his living space into something akin to Kurt Schwitter’s Merzbau; a declaration that he wished to live cocooned by external manifestations of his internal creative drive.
The unity of his vision is also visible; observe the four paintings that were released for auction in April 2012 alongside the works shown in Cobain Unseen for a sense of Kurt’s ‘cosmology’ of images and elements. In March 1990 Kurt chooses to lead Nirvana into a TV studio to try and create their first video, an entirely self-motivated decision. That was followed by the Sub Pop In Bloom video that same year. Lack of funds and resource were irrelevant to the desire to incorporate other mediums around the music.
The way, after fame struck, that he seems to have retreated even more into other forms of art is noteable. While barely bothering to express himself in the form that gave him fame, music, his urge to articulate whatever was within him meant a continued sea of other works, only a fraction of which has so far been shared publically. In amidst what was a very turbulent life from 1992, he took time to personally involve himself in the art work related to a majority of Nirvana’s releases, despite the fact he could easily have left that role to others. He didn’t; he wanted to do it. So, while he can barely be persuaded to turn up to record with his band, he takes the time to prepare the Incesticide art-work, to conceptualize and prepare an installation/collage for In Utero, is fully engaged with the Heart Shaped Box video, plots the single art for that song and for All Apologies/Rape Me. It’s only the Pennyroyal Tea single where he relinquishes that control; a disturbing sign simply because the art was the only element of Nirvana he seems to have clung to during his final years.
A film that can shed more life on Kurt’s life not just as songwriter and performer, but as a quintessential artist with an omnivorous desire to toy with any means of creation, can only be welcomed. It’s awe-inspiring how total Kurt’s need to create was.