Documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield has a way of getting right to the point when he interviews his subjects. In a memorable moment of Kurt and Courtney, Broomfield walks through a back gate to meet a scary chap named El Duce, points his microphone and instantly, casually asks: "So, Courtney Love offered you fifty grand to kill Kurt Cobain?"
Broomfield's bemused, sometimes bumbling personal manner is always at the heart of his documentaries (Driving Me Crazy , Fetishes ). Unlike many who have tried this narcissistic trick, Broomfield is actually an engaging screen presence. More importantly, his wayward search for the truth – or sometimes simply for a story or a main character – becomes the guiding thread that structures the work.
Kurt and Courtney starts out examining Cobain (his life, death and legacy) but eventually – as it is drawn into a labyrinth of intriguing and outrageous rumours – focuses more on Love. In fact, it is mostly about the obstacles (legal and logistical) that Love puts in the way of Broomfield pursuing or completing his project. In response, he drolly announces each occasion at which an intended Cobain song has had to be replaced on the soundtrack.
There is a touch of crusading pretentiousness in the way Broomfield comes to accuse Love of dire crimes against journalistic integrity. Yet even this crusade becomes part of the fun of the film, especially in a scene where Broomfield makes an impromptu anti-Love speech at a public ceremony.
Whether exhibiting himself or his subjects, Broomfield has a fine knack for bottling the weirdest aspects of human behaviour. Much of Kurt and Courtney is a low-key freak show, as the filmmaker encounters strange specimens from both conservative and underground walks of life. Broomfield charmingly displays the same wry, slightly detached curiosity towards them all.
Broomfield likes, whenever possible, to open a door to a world previously unseen on screen – some milieu that is a compelling mix of the sensational and the mundane. He goes off the rails only when the topic is too serious for his brittle sense of comedy – as happened in Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992).
But the tattily glamorous spheres of rock music and showbiz – with their hint of a more dangerous and corrupt underside – suit Broomfield's talents perfectly. Kurt and Courtney is a treat.
© Adrian Martin September 1998