Love Bane of Cobain

Kurt and Courtney overcomes serious flaws for an intriguing, offbeat documentary

In Kurt and Courtney, her father reads a poem that Love wrote -- and threw away -- as a teen. The refrain went something like, "I've got my eye on the next date." To her hateful father and her ungenerous filmic biographer, the poem displays a daughter's cynicism and ambition; but you can just as easily see it as evidence of a precocious talent for provocative wordplay and a worldliness that's sad, coming from a teenager. Of course she had her eye on the next date; in a hostile and exploitative world, what smart and ambitious woman wouldn't?

Kurt and Courtney is what happens when two nihilists collide. In his other movies, Broomfield was dealing with victims: women overtaken by events that crush them. Heidi Fleiss is a seriocomic figure; Wuornos's story, of course, is truly tragic. Love exists in a different universe.

When it comes to media consciousness, she's more than Broomfield's match. In Kurt and Courtney, Broomfield shows a priceless piece of TV footage. Love, on the Larry Flynt publicity trail, is refusing to talk about heroin on a morning TV news program. "Not on the Today show," she says firmly, when the sanctimonious, helmet-haired interviewer persists, and gets up to leave, saying something like, "This is not the demographic I'm going to talk about that in front of." Now, who else in the world would talk about media demographics when asked about drug use? Only Courtney Love sees things in such bald terms, and alone among stars, she has the courage to call a vacuous medium on a double standard. Love knows that alcoholics and adulterers, wife-beaters and worse have traipsed through the Today studio unchallenged. They weren't going to start with her.

Which makes you wonder why Broomfield did. Mick Jagger is probably the most coldly calculating and ruthless person in the history of show business, but he'll be treated like royalty until the day he dies. A thousand other stars like him will never have their ex-girlfriends interviewed to describe what lousy lays they are, as an ex-boyfriend of Love's does here. Why is Love open to such attack?

Love has threatened journalists in the past, as Broomfield intones soberly at the ACLU banquet; but if hypocrisy at social-cause awards banquets were a disqualifying factor, there wouldn't be any more of them. Love's attacks on Vanity Fair writer Lynn Hirschberg (who reported that Love had done heroin while she was pregnant, a charge Love eventually copped to) are wrong but still somewhat understandable: The couple nearly had their child taken away from them as a result. Heroin users probably should have their kids taken away from them, but that magazine's choice of targets is suspicious. Had today's version of Vanity Fair been published in the 1930s, readers would no doubt be engrossed in accounts of the glamorous, intriguing lives of the likes of Benito and Adolf. (Love had her revenge when the magazine had one of its in-house celebrity ass-kissers do an expansively affectionate portrait of her a year or two later.)

In the end, Kurt and Courtney can't resonate because Broomfield has met too difficult a target. About the worst thing you can say about Love is that she's advanced her career on the dead body of her husband. She was at least married to Cobain; what's Broomfield's excuse? You can sense his nervousness and his agenda. In previous films, he slyly dispenses money to his interview subjects on camera. Here he never does, perhaps thinking that we might distrust some incoherent mumbling from a wasted former nanny in a basement if we knew she had a monetary incentive to do so. He can't talk about the real Kurt Cobain, because sooner or later it would basically come down to the fact that he too is just exploiting the memory of a fatally depressed junkie inexplicably in love with his junkie wife. A real documentary could be made about Love's media manipulations, but Broomfield can't really talk about that because it would expose the weaknesses of his methodology, which is to rely on absurdism when the facts aren't there.

And in the end, Love demonstrated that she's operating on a level that even Broomfield never considered. With the world film community clustered this January in Park City, Utah, for Sundance, Love gave the film a priceless burst of publicity by attempting to suppress it. She unquestionably dislikes Broomfield and has been uncharacteristically silent on Kurt and Courtney generally. But she, more than anyone, understands the power suppression can give to its object. Why did she do it? Because Kurt and Courtney is about her, the critical factor in Love's mind. How can Broomfield compete with a mind like that? In the end, Love's in the news again and Broomfield's left standing in a field, giving screen time to a fuckhead babbling something about being offered $50,000 to kill Kurt Cobain, a terribly unhappy young man who shot himself on a desolate spring day in Seattle some four years ago. There are better ways to make a living, and for all her faults, Courtney Love's got one of them.

Kurt and Courtney.
A documentary directed by Nick Broomfield. With Courtney Love.

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