Kurt & Courtney: How Kurt Cobain Died?

World premiering at the 1999 South by Southwest Film Festival, Nick Broomfield’s “Kurt & Courtney” is an investigation into the suspicion that rock star Courtney Love was behind the killing of her husband, Kurt Cobain.

It was abruptly pulled from the more prestigious year’s Sundance Film Fest, when the filmmaker was threatened with a lawsuit for failing to obtain rights to Cobain’s music. Moreover, Kurt & Courtney” evoked controversy and triggered outrage among the documentary genre’s purists who objected to Broomfield’s self-aggrandizing methods and shaky journalism.

The docu presents a look at Love that is largely negative and unflattering. Broomfield is often seen driving to his next interview as his British monotone narrates how he will proceed next. Broomfield is a filmmaker who willingly—and gladly–inserts himself into his features. As such, he doesn’t mind showing subjects chastising him or vice versa. Such tactics have not made Broomfield popular among traditional documentarians.

“Kurt & Courtney” provoked vocal and caustic response due to his “methods.” But he claims: “I don’t read my reviews. It’s very controversial subject matter treated in a very controversial way. You expect to get a broad variety of responses, and that’s the whole thing about film. It can polarize audiences and can get strong responses.”

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA) April 10, 1998 Dan Webster–862 words

For Broomfield, making ”Kurt &Courtney” proved to be harder than he would ever have imagined, ”I think if I had known in the beginning how dark and difficult the film would have been,” he said during an interview, ”I wouldn’t have made it.”

He’s talking just the usual challenges of raising finances, the travel needed to chase down interviews, the scouting of locations, the long days spent editing huge amount of stock to a reasonable length, the risk of finding a distributor. But the main difficulty was dealing with one half of his subject, Cobain’s surviving wife Courtney Love, a rocker in her own right, and, recently, a movie star (”The People Vs. Larry Flynt”).

The other half, Kurt Cobain, the influential co-founder of the Seattle grunge-rock band Nirvana, is dead. His death, by shotgun in April 1994, was ruled a suicide.
Broomfield has filmed the stories of such real-life characters as serial
killer Aileen Wuornos and ”Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss, encountered many stumbling blocks in his dealings with Love. His intent was merely to look at discrepancies in the facts about Cobain’s death.

A whole cult, fueled by the Internet, has grown up around rumors that Cobain was murdered, and that Love was the instigator.
Indeed, Broomfield’s interest was piqued by Love’s insistent refusal to cooperate. But there people who talked against Love. “The strength of feeling against Courtney surprised me the most,” Broomfield told the San Francisco Chronicle. ”People were so consistently against her. These great torrents of stuff came out. I couldn’t shut people up.”

Pressure from Love through EMI Music (Love’s recording company) and ICM (her talent agency) forced Broomfield to scramble for funding. Initially funded through British Broadcasting and his own company, Broomfield’s film lost a deal with Showtime because of Love’s influence.

Broomfield has shown a number of his films at Sundance Film Fest, including “Soldier Girls,” which won an award there. This year, Broomfield was set to premiere ”Kurt & Courtney” on the festival’s opening Friday, January 16. As a member of the documentary jury, he believed his film would be well received. But it didn’t even play. EMI Music threatened to use, informing that the film used snippets of a Nirvana song (Smells Like Teen Spirit), a song by Love’s band Hole (”Doll Parts”) and some early recording of a teenage Cobain. Broomfield did not own the music rights.

“This is not about Love,” a spokeswoman for Love told the New York Times. ”It’s about Nirvana, her husband’s group, and the rights were not cleared. You want to use a Frank Sinatra record in a movie, you can’t do it without getting permission and paying for it. And the same applies here.” Broomfield insisted that he had been cleared to use the music. Both songs were from recording made during a BBC show, and the BBC had licensed him the footage. Even so, he agreed to cut the songs from the film. But Sundance still cancelled the premiere.

Broomfield said the cancellation only proved his point about Love’s efforts to squelch his film. “I have proved that I have the necessary licensing and have also agreed to cut out the clips in question to make the screening possible,” he said. “What this issue is really about is the continuing control on the part of Courtney Love to prevent the truth from coming out through a story
that she doesn’t want told.”

Broomfield showed his film in Park City at a special midnight event. But he missed out on getting a major distributor. ”It lost me a Miramax or a Fine Line, both of whom were bidding,” he said. ”They were frightened by the lawsuit, they were frightened of compromising their relationship with ICM.” Broomfield then approached the owners of the independent San Francisco movie house, the Roxie Theater. A three-week run drew record crowds, and ”Kurt & Courtney” then played at the Spokanes of the world, courtesy of Roxie.

He’s learned anew the lesson of approaching projects with preconceived notions. “I found a likability and a charisma in both of those people that I never expected,” he said of Aileen Wuornos and Heidi Fleiss. “I probably had expected that with Courtney, but the reverse was true.”

The death of Kurt Cobaine has inspired Gus Van Sant to make an indie about it, “Last Days”,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Fest.