Archive releases exist between two opposing poles. Firstly, by their nature, they’re not about quality.They’re leftovers and unfinished material – they’re never going to be what was intended to be released until an artist makes a later decision to monetise them. Secondly, unfortunately, sometimes a curatorial desire does seep in – suddenly, while raking through the material, someone decides to be more cautious, to pick material that can be deemed to have a certain degree of quality. The best of the leftovers, the most finished material, the most original material – other urges creep into an exercise in completism.
In the case of “Montage of Heck”, I’ve actually been a pretty big supporter of the work. Brett Morgen took the material that exists in Cobain’s archive and made a film about families. He ignored most footage of Nirvana playing or interviewing except for use in the rapid-fire montages, he made a good decision to consider the career of Nirvana known territory and therefore background to what he was doing. I also thought the ‘layered’ nature of the campaign – cinema experience, book, DVD, soundtrack release – made absolute sense with each format being a legitimate facet of the project.
So, why am I wincing a little? OK, you can buy the DVD or Blu-ray for $22.50 on Amazon.com. You can buy the book for $23.37. The vinyl is $29.99. The initial pricing of the Super-Deluxe package at $150 dollars for the whole lot isn’t wildly outside of the ballpark. But…Really? I’m not sure about you but I don’t buy Blu-ray because I don’t watch enough TV to bother with yet another format – especially to watch a film made up of 1970s home movie footage and talking heads. And if I did buy Blu-ray, then why would I also want the DVD if I’d deemed it an obsolete format? Getting both together doesn’t interest me so all that does is the music and the extras. Let’s focus on them.
Let’s be blunt, this isn’t about art. The idea of turning Cobain’s artwork into a puzzle isn’t illegitimate, but it’s a novelty item – and I try to avoid anything that reeks of novelty when it comes to Nirvana and Cobain whether that means drinks coasters, posters, dolls, a ‘collectible storage container’, postcards, bookmarks…Oh, in other words most everything coming with the boxset. No harm in any of it but I’m pretty sure this is still about the music so that’s what matters. I considered the magnet on the front of the ‘In Utero’ Super-Deluxe a waste of time too incidentally. Fun but very what the heck.
I’ve purchased the Super-Deluxe of both ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ without the slightest quibble – why? Because I felt I was getting both music and content. The books accompanying each were interesting and well-done and upped what I was willing to pay slightly. But acquiring the CD and DVD of the respective live shows was the key factor for me, however. I don’t watch TV much as I said so the DVDs were once-a-year viewing, the CD a lot more. Here, there’s a DVD I’ve already seen.
But there are 48 minutes of extras…But the film is already too long. It’s the chief flaw, just my feeling, that even I was getting restless in my seat and I’m a fanatic – and who else is going to buy this other than fanatics? So they’re touching the right audience, but as I’m audio-orientated, book-orientated, not film-orientated or art-orientated, getting more of the film doesn’t enthrall me unless they mean its 48 minutes of Cobain recording himself playing music. In which case…
…In which case, my only issue with the ‘With the Lights Out’ box-set? I’m sad that the DVD component didn’t come with a matching CD. I’d like to have heard some of that material just as audio. It’s a minor complaint – it was a good box-set. So, in this case, if there’s musically interesting material amid the DVD extras then I already feel a degree of annoyance having to pick through whatever else is on there – and having to boot up DVD player and TV – just to find it.
Which brings everything back to the music. I am truly excited to hear the 31 track release – end of story. No quibbles. No doubts. No whining! I wanna hear it! I’ll buy it! I said right back months ago that I was all set to buy tickets for the film (done!), buy the DVD (done!), buy the book (done!) and buy the soundtrack (not yet!) I was very happy to exchange a rather insignificant quantity of money, over several months, to experience a range of settings. The film was worth seeing at a cinema – Morgen was right to set the volume levels as he did, it really added to the ferocity of it all. The film was worth seeing on DVD – the film does bear repeated viewing.
The book, to be honest, didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t a poor product, no issue there at all, if you don’t have it it IS worth checking out for the interviews with people who don’t normally speak – plus the focused nature of the book. Artistically, hate to say it, but though I think Morgen’s team did amazing work with the visuals in the film I’d have been slightly more interested in more of Cobain’s unseen artwork and so forth. But that’s a minor quibble – I’m not very visual anyway.
The suggestion that the Super-Deluxe would be the only place one could acquire the full 31 tracks was genuinely upsetting. The idea of forcing people to purchase the DVD – that they would most likely already possess – in order to get at it was very wrong. With the ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ super-deluxe sets one was always getting more for one’s money but the most crucial new audio was available more conveniently. It seemed a guaranteed way to force people to download illegally. It seems that statement isn’t entirely true – which is positive.
The cassette. Ho hum. I buy cassettes. I’m buying a few things from Blank Editions at the moment (http://www.blankeditions.com/), when it comes to new music I find the cassette a very valid format. But if it’s available on CD or vinyl then I’ll just buy it that way. Having to get out my grandfather’s ol’ cassette player is pesky. I’d have bought the Super-Deluxe if the cassette contained anything not on the other formats – I’d have considered some kind of collage blending of elements from the film a legitimate ‘Super-Deluxe Only’ release that was both reasonable and worth finding.
So, ultimately, unlike the previous super-deluxe boxes, for the first time, I’m thinking I’ll only buy the 31 track edition of the music. I’ve got the DVD, I don’t want to buy it a second time. I don’t want a cassette that I’ll never play. The ‘Sappy/And I Love Her’ seven inch satisfies completists who are obsessed by format and it’s a very reasonable way of stirring additional interest and attention – great work! As a campaign this hangs together very nicely and I think it’s highly intelligent.
But, so far, with no additional component to justify the re-purchase of things I’ve already got, the super-deluxe is piled too high with ephemera, with irrelevance. Buy one visual format – get one you consider not worth it or already obsolete! Get the same music on cassette, vinyl, CD for no real reason! Get trinkets! I was ready to buy the box-set but this amassing of slightly purposeless mass-produced items, this repetition and recycling when it was a deliberate decision not to release all of this to the U.S. market already (and when I’m in the U.K. so already have everything bar the 31 tracks)…That’s why it feels exploitative. The true fans already got the book – they don’t need it again. The true fans saw the film and just want the DVD. The true fans wanna hear the music – f*** the jigsaw puzzle.
And, again, let me just say, I am hugely looking forward to the soundtrack. I am hugely impressed with the work Morgen and Universal have done this year to create a multi-platform, multi-format release that’s kept interest in Nirvana high for an entire year. I think the film is really good. I think the book is decent. I think rationing the music out rather than doing some ridiculous all-out thing (like that 18 disc Dylan set that’s coming) is precisely the way to keep the music alive and interesting.
People forget that if you get EVERYTHING, then the thing dies. Someone can die and their work lives on if there’s still something to discover and uncover. When one receives too much at once, stuff sits on the shelf, it becomes unimportant, it becomes boring to sift through and there’s no longer anything to look forward to. I’d rather wait. And every few years I’ll happily pay for someone to curate a selection for me. This isn’t exploitation, it’s what I pay a professional organisation for. Keep it coming!
…Just do me a favour and don’t make me pay for the same stuff twice over or more.