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For Some, Cobain Film Is Less Than Nirvana

Reaction: Packed audience is sedate during 'Kurt and Courtney' but breaks into laughter at some points.

April 20, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than four years after his death, Kurt Cobain can still pack a theater.

From committed Nirvana fans to the merely curious, hundreds of moviegoers turned out to see Nick Broomfield's documentary about Cobain and his widow, Courtney Love. At the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, the line for the sold-out 10 p.m. Friday screening of "Kurt and Courtney" snaked clear around the second tier of the plaza.

Jim Mendes, 24, bought tickets for the screening on his lunch hour and lined up nearly an hour early. He'd read all about the brouhaha at the Sundance Film Festival, where the film was yanked off the schedule when EMI Records and Love threatened to sue, claiming Broomfield didn't have the rights to some of the music. The movie was later screened at the underground Slamdance festival.

"His death is one of the few celebrity deaths that actually affected me, and not because I was a big fan of Nirvana or the music or anything," said Mendes, of West Los Angeles, who added that he doesn't even own a Nirvana album.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 25, 1998 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 14 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Documentary--In Monday's Calendar, a story about the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary "Kurt and Courtney" misidentified the festival where the film debuted after its ouster from the Sundance Film Festival. It was screened at the Slamdunk festival.

That sort of reaction is what fascinated Broomfield, who set out to investigate Cobain's suicide in the film. In the process, however, he--and the film--get caught up in various conspiracy theories about Cobain's death, many of them involving Love.

Those expecting an informed documentary about music were disappointed. Not only did Broomfield take out the contested songs, "Kurt and Courtney" was overall talky, not rocking. With the exception of a few bursts of laughter--such as when a particularly strange man called El Duce says Love offered him "50 grand to whack Kurt Cobain"--the audience was sedate through the whole film.

*

Michael Stevens, 28, of Hollywood, found the laughter entirely inappropriate. Granted, El Duce, with his executioner hood and sexually sadistic rock band, was a bizarre character. "But we're talking about a man's life here," Stevens observed.

Stevens knew what to expect from Broomfield's work, in which the filmmaker becomes an on-camera participant. While he noted that the film had flaws, it was an important stand for free speech. "He didn't back down," Stevens said. "But people didn't take it seriously enough. That was the most glaring thing."

Given the legal threats--attorneys also warned the distributor, Roxie Releasing in San Francisco, that they would be liable in any lawsuit related to the film--three San Fernando Valley teenagers said they considered making a bootleg video of the movie.

Nathan Whitson, Mike Costa and John Abs, all students at Cleveland High School, were the most visible Cobain fans in the audience, each wearing a different Nirvana T-shirt. Costa, 17, wore a cap with the years of Cobain's birth and death embroidered on the side. The three formed a band called Hemlock that covers a lot of Nirvana songs.

Their disappointment, too, was with the audience. They expected to be awash in Nirvana T-shirts, torn denim and flannel--the uniform of grunge music. If they weren't in school, Costa said, they would have driven to Seattle to see the film there.

Whitson, 17, said Broomfield should have kept the film focused on Cobain rather than let it get derailed by Love. But he liked that the movie provided some new information about Cobain's pre-Nirvana life.

"In high school, he seemed sort of like us," Whitson said. "Picked on."

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