Tribeca Film Fest: Courtney Love Cries Over Kurt Cobain Documentary, Says Director Found Their 'Sex Tape'

nirvana Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios
Michel Linssen/Redferns

Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios, playing Takamine acoustic guitar on Nov. 25, 1991. 

Courtney Love has seen Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck four times now, but discussing the HBO documentary still brought her to tears.

Love misted up while discussing the film -- which she said contains a snippet of a sex tape she and the late Nirvana frontman made -- at a discussion with her and director Brett Morgen following the film's Tribeca Film Festival premiere at Spring Studios in lower Manhattan on April 19.

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When moderator Neil Strauss, who wrote about Love in his 2011 book, Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness, asked what she felt seeing the film for the fourth time, the Hole singer and guitarist replied "Guilt." Love added that she found herself wondering what "I could have done" to prevent Cobain's suicide, at the age of 27, in 1994.  Love, 50, also recalled the first time she saw the film with her 22-year-old daughter Frances Bean Cobain, who is the executive producer of Montage of Heck. Mother and daughter reportedly sat together on a sofa and cried as they watched the film.  "I got to spend more time with Kurt and Frances...." Love said, her voice trailing off as she wiped away tears. 

"There are some tissues over there. If someone can bring those over," Strauss asked one of the festival's staffers.

Love quickly composed herself, and she and Morgen went on to discuss how she had given the filmmaker access to a treasure trove of archival material, including video and audio tapes featuring her and her then husband.  Morgen told Love that it was "completely courageous of you" to give him such entrée to her life with the much-mythologized Cobain. The filmmaker, who admitted that he would never give anyone such access to his life, said that he found himself wondering, "Why did you do this?"

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Montage of Heck, which is named after a mixtape that Cobain made in the late 1980s, is an intimate look at Cobain's life told largely through his journals and the previously unreleased audio and video that Morgen discovered as he pored over the contents of a storage locker to which Love had given him access. (The journals and the recordings of Cobain's voice are animated by, respectively, Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing.)  The film also includes recollections of his family members --including his father Donald Cobain and stepmother Jenny Cobain, interviewed on camera for the first time -- his girlfriend Tracy Marander, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Love, but refrains from using many talking heads.

Among the revelations that Morgen unearthed for Montage of Heck are audio of Cobain discussing his first attempt at suicide,  video of him appearing to nod off as he holds Frances while Love gives her a haircut. ("I'm not on drugs, I'm tired," he says.) And up-close-and-personal footage of Cobain and Love making out that, Love said, she thought had been erased. "Somehow Brett found the sex tape," she said with a smile.  "Everyone makes one sex tape once in their lives."

Love also revealed during the discussion that some intimate footage of her and Cobain -- including scenes in which she flashes her breasts as the couple primp themselves in their bathroom -- was shot by Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson, who was Love's boyfriend before Cobain. "Eric would come over to our house and shoot really intimate stuff with me and Kurt," she told the crowd. 

Morgen admitted that when Erlandson brought over the footage and revealed to him, "I used to go out with Courtney," he thought, "Weird, man." 

"That's just the way Eric is. Let's move on," Love replied.

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An audience member then asked about former Nirvana member -- and current Foo Fighter frontman -- Dave Grohl's absence from the movie. Morgen explained that because Grohl was busy recording an album (and directing a complementary documentary miniseries for HBO, Sonic Highways), the artist was not available until "three weeks after I had locked the picture" and "two weeks before Sundance" where Montage of Heck premiered. Morgen said that, nonetheless, he did the interview "and it was awesome," but was happy with the movie he had made and didn't see a need to include the interview. "It's not a talking-head movie, and it's not a movie about Nirvana," explained Morgan, who added that the structure of Montage of Heck is inspired by Lenny, the 1974 film that Bob Fosse directed about comedian Lenny Bruce. (That film was nominated for six Academy awards.) Although there have been reports that Grohl may be added to the film by the time it appears on HBO, Morgen did not give any indication that this would happen. "I'm happy with it," he said of the cut that was screened at the festival. 

"I think Brett spent a lot of time with Kurt's spirit," said Love, noting that Montage of Heck, which will premiere on HBO on May 4is "as close to the truth as anyone's going to get." 

Near the end of the discussion, Morgen paid Love a compliment as well.  Pointing out that the rocker has been seriously "maligned" by the press -- a theme that is covered briefly in the documentary -- he said, "I am in awe over the way that this shit rolls off of you."