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Controversial 'Kurt and Courtney' Gets Wider Release

Movies: Documentary is expanding to more cities, including L.A. in April, despite Love's threat to sue.

March 20, 1998|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Kurt and Courtney," the controversial documentary that was pulled from the Sundance Film Festival after grunge rock diva Courtney Love threatened to sue, is no longer under wraps.

Beginning today, Nick Broomfield's film about Love and her late husband, Kurt Cobain--which has been playing to full houses at a single San Francisco theater since late February--will open in four more Northern California cities. Three weeks later, on April 10, it will open in Los Angeles, according to officials at Roxie Releasing, who also plan premieres in Boston, Chicago, New York and Seattle.

"The big scare factor I think has diminished," said publicist Elliot Lavine of Roxie Releasing, whose San Francisco theater was the first to show the film. "The night before we opened we got a letter from [Love's lawyer]. It was sort of a threat, actually. But I don't feel that we're living under the shadow of a really serious legal problem."

Michael Chodos, one of Love's lawyers, did not return calls Thursday. Pat Kingsley, Love's publicist, said Love did not wish to comment on the film's release.

"I'm sure she doesn't want to make it any bigger," Kingsley said. "She hasn't even seen it."

Love's lawyers and EMI Music Publishing, the company that controls the songs of Cobain's band Nirvana, had been attempting to suppress the documentary since late last year. The reason: In it, Love's father and others say they believe Love played a role in Cobain's death.

"Such accusations are false and defamatory, nothing more," Chodos wrote to Roxie officials last month. "By choosing to display the film . . . [you] are liable along with [the filmmaker] for any resulting damage."

Nevertheless, Roxie officials chose to screen the film. In the first week, they broke their first-week attendance record with $28,500 in ticket sales. Love's father--who admits in the film that he used pit bulls to discipline Courtney as a child--was in the audience opening night, Lavine said.

"He got an enormous kick out of it," Lavine said. "He was sitting in the back row, laughing."

While the film investigates allegations that Love was involved in Cobain's death, which has been ruled a suicide, it also goes a long way toward undercutting those charges. For example, El Duce, a tattoo-covered man who resembles a professional wrestler, tells Broomfield that Love offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. He then offers to give more details--as long as the filmmaker buys him a beer.

The film also interviews Cobain's Aunt Mary, who plays haunting tapes of the former Nirvana lead singer crooning--at the age of 2. Broomfield, meanwhile, has altered the film's soundtrack to avoid legal problems, removing a Nirvana hit ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") and a single by Love's group, Hole ("Doll Parts").

Broomfield's other documentaries include "Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam," "Fetishes" and "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer." Reportedly, he is now considering making a documentary about O.J. Simpson.

The Los Angeles premiere of "Kurt and Courtney" will be at Laemmle's Sunset 5, said Lavine. If what happened in San Francisco is any guide, he said, the theater should brace for an onslaught of Nirvana fans.

"Watching it with a big full house here at the Roxie was kind of transcendental," he said, noting that the crowd seemed to be even more excited because they knew about the film's legal battles. "Even without the controversy, there was a built-in attraction. But that made it irresistible. Thank God."

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