Thoughts on “Montage of Heck” and “Amy”
Let me begin by saying that music docs are my favorite form of story telling when they explore the creative process, the complicated dynamics among talented people, and how life influences the music. “Some Kind of Monster” is a remarkable look at the inner workings of Metallica as the aging band records a new album and struggles with the pressure to exceed the expectations of their fans. “I’m Trying to Break Your Heart” chronicles the making of the band Wilco’s fourth album and the subsequent break up of two long-time collaborators. In my favorite film of all time, “Gimme Shelter,” the audience rides along with the Rolling Stones during their 1969 US tour and is not only privy to intimate moments in the studio with the band but also bears witness to the exact moment the free-loving hippie sixties ended.
That said, I’m having a problem with the alarming trend of posthumous documentaries about troubled artists. Last week I watched both “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” from director Brett Morgen and “Amy” from director Asif Kapadia (who also did the terrific “Senna” doc in 2010) about Amy Winehouse. Watching these films back-to-back, the paths of the two subjects are undeniably similar. Both Cobain and Winehouse were extremely talented young artists who wrote songs that were intensely personal. Both defined success as being able to play music for a living, and both shunned the media machine that thrust them in the spotlight. Both suffered troubled childhoods and addictive personalities, and as a result, neither had the tools to properly insulate themselves from the stress of celebrity. They both slid into the depths of drug abuse as a way to escape the clutches of public eye. Tragically, both died at the age of 27.