It’s always interesting to consider the early lives of notable people. In doing so, we partake in a sort of pop-psychology in which the childhoods of those figures take on an illuminating resonance, one which occasionally foreshadows the lives they went on to lead. Perhaps this has something to do with Nirvana fans’ obsession with a short film Kurt Cobain made with his two friends, Dale Crover and Krist Novoselic, back in 1984 when Cobain was only 17 years old.
The tape has been around since the late ’90s and was circulated amongst die-hard fans after Cobain’s death. Of course, back then, it went under the name: ‘Kurt’s Bloody Suicide’ to maximise its value. However, it has recently resurfaced on Youtube, more tastefully entitled ‘Kurt Cobain Horror Movies’.
Dale Crover, who became the drummer of The Melvins, has described the Super-8 film as three guys “fucking around with a camera”. And on the surface, it certainly looks that way. It opens with a blurry close up of the diseased hand of (presumably) someone who has incurred the wrath of something or other. But then, it also features a young Kurt in a Mr T mask, worshipping at a pentagram, huffing up a plateful of cocaine, and random shots of locals from downtown Aberdeen, Washington. All of this is soundtracked by an artful soundscape of film and radio samples, as well as a good deal of thrash-metal music.
Amongst the madness, however, it’s clear that Crover, Novoselic and Cobain have a taste for the experimental. The film is dotted with mind-bending transitions, in which scenes are filled with light leaks, film burns and negative exposures. At points, it takes on the eerieness of Kubrick’s closing sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey. At other’s, it’s hilariously slapstick. We see a dog being murdered with a toy knife, some fake gun-toting, and shots of somebody’s pet turtle looming into the frame.
Then we get to the meat of the piece and the reason so many die-hard Nirvana fans bought the bootlegged film back in the ’90s. We see Cobain’s character slitting his own throat with a fake switchblade, slitting his writs and stabbing himself. It’s actually pretty hard to watch.
I don’t know whether that’s just me being prudish or the fact that exactly ten years later, that same boy would be found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Regardless, you can’t help but feel these three boys really knew how to make your stomach turn.
And the bloodshed doesn’t end there. People start dropping like flies, overcome with a manic desire to kill themselves from that point onwards. As we approach the film’s climax, we see a knife-wielding maniac hiding in the bushes. As he approaches and plunges his knife into his victim, Cobain’s film becomes almost Hitchcockian, with sharp jump-cuts dispersing the violence into grisly segments.
It’s hard to say if watching this film gives us any indication of Cobain’s fate. Really, the most we can say is that he had a mind as dark as any other teenage boy’s. At least, any other teenage metalhead. What the film does show us, is that Cobain was always looking for an artistic outlet for these dark thoughts. And when you think about it, surely that’s preferable to keeping them bottled up.
Nirvana’s music, as popular as it was, didn’t shy away from the difficult subject matter. Take ‘Polly’, for example, a song about the real-life kidnapping and torture of a girl on her way home from a rock concert. In that way, Cobain was always trying to make the best of an ugly world.
You can watch the full film below.