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Last Days

Watching Last Days 30 Years After Kurt Cobain’s Death

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This month marks 30th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, making it the perfect time to watch or revisit Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, an interesting experiment of a movie that manages to work as more of a character study than a biopic.

There’s no arguing that Kurt Cobain’s a pretty important and influential guy within music. What he lacked in crazy complex guitar playing, he made up for with his lyrics. He was this seemingly random guy who was, in a way, chosen as the spokesman for the ’90s, an entire generation of people who just wanted to hang out in their flannel shirts and listen to cool music.

Maybe because I wasn’t alive during this time, I romanticize the grunge era. I view it through the Cameron Crowe Singles lens instead of looking at it for what it actually was. Because for every great grunge band, I’m sure there were a ton of shitty ones. But if we’re looking at what made the grunge movement so important to begin with, the best-case example would be Nirvana.

To many people, Kurt Cobain can come off as this pretentious, tortured artist songwriter, and while I can sometimes understand the hate (his last interview is about 10 minutes of him being a dick to Nardwuar), to me, Kurt stands out as the type of musician who just spoke his mind (and also one of the few musicians I feel like I can refer to by his first name despite never even knowing him). Of course he hated doing interviews. He wasn’t interested in selling out. He didn’t want to raise ticket prices, and he was even disappointed in Nirvana’s biggest album because he thought it sounded too clean and commercial. Sometimes I wonder if he’d still be like this had he made it around until today. I mean, even Pearl Jam have raised their ticket prices by an insane amount, and Eddie Vedder doesn’t even do the cool climbing onstage sh*t anymore. But Kurt Cobain is also the kind of person who I can’t imagine being any different. He was in the spotlight for such a short amount of time that it’s almost impossible to imagine him any other way.

As abrupt as Kurt’s death was, it didn’t come off as a shock to everyone. And whether you think it was a murder or a suicide or Courtney was involved or she wasn’t, it can’t be understated that he left behind a big impact on not only the music people were listening to, but the industry itself. So of course someone out there wanted to make a Kurt Cobain biopic. And this someone was Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant.

After 10 years of thinking about the project, Van Sant finally made Last Days, and it was released in 2005, 11 years after Kurt’s death. By this point, music had gone in an entirely different direction, but the impact Kurt Cobain and Nirvana left was still present.

Out of fear of a lawsuit, Van Sant changed the character’s name to Blake and didn’t include any of Nirvana’s actual music. But it’s very, very clear who the film is based on, and the result is something a little more accurate than Velvet Goldmine and a little less realistic than an actual biopic.

Last Days 2The film follows the last week in the life of a fictionalized Cobain and focuses on not only him but those around him. It plays out very slowly, and I don’t think it would be wrong of me to call it a bit boring. But it’s deliberately so. It’s not about the story as much as the performances. Van Sant will direct an entire scene of Blake pouring a bowl of cereal and then eating it. He barely ever speaks, but just from his look and general demeanor, you know exactly who he’s playing.

Michael Pitt’s performance as Blake (or Blake Blobain, as I like to call him) is definitely the standout, but I know I can’t be the only one who instantly recognized his record label’s executive as being played by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. I’m not really sure why, but her involvement in the film is cool, nonetheless. The rest of the cast does an okay job, but the scenes without Blake tend to be much less engaging, and often it feels like the movie drags on forever. But in a way, that’s kinda the point. It may sound pretentious (and it definitely is), but the slowness of the film works for it. The way I see it, it’s providing a look into Kurt Cobain’s public appearance. Of course, it’s not going to be a factual account of what it was like to be a famous musician with a tough past. It’s more so about examining the person everyone saw on the outside.

We don’t get to see any important moments of his career being played out like a factual event. Instead, we’re just forced to examine the character everyone made Kurt Cobain out to be. And while that does result in a bit of an underwhelming movie, at least it’s a pretty interesting one.

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