Wednesday, June 17, 1998

Kurt and Courtney

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 1998 at 12:00 AM

It's been four years since the fast, grimy saga of Nirvana ended with the apparent suicide of singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain. And while Cobain rests in peace, the world has watched the raging bull popularly known to all as Courtney Love rise from rock groupie to movie star. In Kurt and Courtney, acclaimed British documentarian Nick Broomfield visits Seattle's seediest quarters and explores the scheme propounded by conspiracy theorists that Cobain's death was not a suicide, but a murder.

Give Broomfield credit: he pursues his subjects and evidence objectively, taking his direction from what he's told as the film starts to gel. An innocuous beginning in Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen reveals predictable details, such as when Cobain's Aunt Mary testifies to his troubled background, or a high school girlfriend divulges his often "disturbed" state of mind. The film's meat comes from discussions with private investigator Tom Grant, who offers a thorough collusion scenario through which Love would inherit millions; and Courtney's father Hank Harrison, a jilted firebrand with two book deals, who confesses to disciplining Love as a child with pit bull terriers.

A savage family background and heroin habits do not, however, excuse fascist tactics. About halfway through, Broomfield's dissonant flick presents a conflict regarding its actual making. Originally set up as a joint production between the BBC and the cable channel Showtime, the film reveals that Love's attorneys ostensibly brought about Showtime's withdrawal from participation. Indeed, the work of Courtney's threat team comes off so unrelenting, including Kurt and Courtney's being pulled from the Sundance film festival earlier this year, that a hint of guilt seems almost reasonable.

Broomfield's ludicrous on-screen bumbling seems to be an act, but his narrative's bungling simply shows that alternative rock's social backdrop can be just as sinister as that of gangsta rap. The highlighting of dubious figures like drunken punk rock singer El Duce, who proclaims that Love offered him $50,000 to "whack" Cobain, ultimately bespeaks creepy entertainment and nothing more. The insidious implication that comes about by the pic's end is that Love goaded Cobain into the fatal kiss-off. Regardless, like that of recent fallen gangsta rappers, Cobain's demise profited others in the never-ending struggle of celebrityhood.

Despite its obvious musical difference, a recent lyrical homage by rapper Chuck D to the late Tupac Shakur seems uncannily illustrative of Cobain's downfall. "Question: Was it bigger than the name? Not only in the game? But the game behind the game?" Like the prey of Jean Renoir's classic The Rules of the Game, Kurt became embroiled in a sport the likes of which he could never understand. Who got game? Courtney Love, that's who.

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