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Tatara feels "Kurt and Courtney" is nowhere near Nirvana

Review: Courtney Love and death in Seattle

Web posted on: Thursday, June 18, 1998 3:31:51 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- I had been cautiously interested for quite some time in seeing Nick Broomfield's controversial new documentary, "Kurt and Courtney," which is supposedly about Courtney Love's possible collaboration in the death of her rock icon husband, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain (in case you've been in a coma, it was officially ruled a suicide).

I know it's a little wobbly to use both "supposedly" and "possibly" in the same sentence, but it turns out that the whole movie is wobbly, a slapdash, unsure concoction of hearsay and decrepitness that does for the documentary format what shows like "Hard Copy" do for TV journalism. "Sleazy" isn't the word for it.

Love has been fighting like mad to legally suppress this movie, for the very good reason that it reveals her to be two-faced and often despicable. But Broomfield never manages to establish a damn thing about his putative thesis -- that Love coldly nurtured Cobain's loyalty to her, sheerly as a means to further her own career, and even contracted someone to kill him in order to get her hands on his money.

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As he did with his first film, "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" (he also made a pointless little movie about Heidi Fleiss, which I saw and barely remember), Broomfield sets himself up as some kind of knight in shining armor, out to uncover the crud that resides just beneath the surface of American lives.

I'm inclined to say "go get 'em," but the problem is that Broomfield pushes himself in front of the camera so many times, and is so willing to talk to literally anybody who has a nasty word to say about either Kurt or Courtney, that he simply winds up exposing his own predisposition towards crud. It's a documentary about desperate bottom-feeders, but Broomfield has no qualms whatsoever about getting down and rooting around with them.

Routine down to a science

He's got his routine honed to a fine art by now, to a degree that had me laughing in spite of myself during some of the more ludicrous interludes in the movie.

To begin with, his voice-overs are first-person. No problem there. If Broomfield had anything of substance to say, this could work as the documentary equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, in which the reporter is as much an active part of the story as the people he's covering. This doesn't work, though, when the reporter has next to no identifiable personality and is forever implying that everyone who doesn't want to cooperate with him is either afraid or is somehow picking on him.

It's almost entrancing to watch Broomfield get rejected, but the first portion of the movie contains so many useless tangents, I started hoping he would just give up and go home. For instance, there's an extended conversation with Cobain's earnest ex-girlfriend in which Broomfield plies her for more information on Cobain's belief that he was (stop the presses) too skinny. We're also informed of the fact that Kurt once presented her with a hand-made photo collage of various "diseased vaginas." And they say romance is dead.

Rejections only useless tangents

My favorite, though, is when, after finding out that Cobain used to like to sit on his parents' front porch and shoot his pellet gun at the office windows of the Washington State Lottery -- which were (and are) located directly across the street -- Broomfield decides, for God knows what reason, to barge into the lottery building, camera rolling, to ask about it.

The woman behind the counter, of course, tells him that security is going to chuck him out on his ass if he doesn't beat it, and Broomfield looks around in utterly theatrical dismay. It's too bad we missed out on the insight that would have been provided by an on-camera verification of this anecdote. It's like watching "60 Minutes" go after a McDonald's because they forgot to give Morley Safer his fries.

Honestly, now, if someone was making a documentary about the possibility that you had your husband snuffed as a career move, would you grant the guy a private audience? I didn't think so. So why, then, are we supposed to be so shocked that Love wants nothing to do with Broomfield?

Love no saint, but ...

Let me be clear -- I absolutely don't want to give the impression that our little Courtney is unworthy of a negative portrayal. There are a couple of telephone messages that she and Kurt left on the machine of a writer who was putting together a book about them that are about as vile and intimidating as anything you've ever heard coming from the mouth of a major celebrity. But you can't go to jail for being contemptible, so there's really not much of anything to make a movie about.

This, however, doesn't stop Broomfield.

The string of vindictive or obviously drug-burned "witnesses" he parades before the camera is downright absurd. Love's father, who's already written two cash-in books about Cobain's death, frankly admits that he's out to get his daughter. (He once tried to convince her to straighten up and fly right by threatening her with a pit bull.)

There's also Kurt's wrung-out best friend, who lives with a drug dealer, and a 300-pound-man named "Il Duce," who claims that Love once offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain, but he turned her down. When asked by Broomfield to explain for the audience who he is, Il Duce groggily describes himself as "warped and intoxicated most of the time." Then he tells Broomfield that he'll talk even more if he'll buy him a beer.

No content 'til movie's end

The only part of the movie that displays any real content is the very end, when Broomfield shows up at an ACLU event in which Love (who, as I've already said, apparently has very strong convictions about the future well-being of some writers) is designated to make a speech about, of all things, freedom of the press.

Broomfield, grandstanding, but this time for an actual reason, bolts on stage after Love's speech and asks flat-out how this woman could possibly be allowed to make speeches on this particular topic. The head of the ACLU shouts something at him from the audience and he quickly gets whisked off stage by a couple of burly types.

That moment aside, most of "Kurt and Courtney" plays like an inadvertent black comedy about the decline of mass media scruples, more of a documentary about the guy behind the camera than anyone in front of it ... unless, of course, Broomfield has stepped in front of the lens for the umpteenth time.

If you're a Courtney Love fan, you very well may not be by the time it's over. But she certainly doesn't have to worry as much as she has been about this movie. Broomfield is probably already pursuing his next victim a lot more vigorously than she is.

"Kurt and Courtney" is loaded with what used to be referred to as a "bad element." There's all sorts of nonchalant references to drug use and lots of bad language, too. The only person I saw who I'd like to spend any time with was the threatened novelist, or maybe that feisty old lady at the lottery office. Rated R. 90 minutes.

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