We’ve come to a point in society where we thrive off salacious celebrity gossip and love nothing more than to watch the rise and fall of our favourite talents. Who can forget a bald headed Britney Spears’ umbrella incident, Amanda Bynes’ outrageous antics on social media or everyone’s favourite housewife of New Jersey Teresa Giudice living out her very own episode of Orange is the New Black. We’ve become infatuated with these celebrities, their lives and their demise.
While ruminating this topic, I peered into the world of three legends in their own right, the beloved leader of grunge Kurt Cobain, the bluesy beehived queen Amy Winehouse and the belly bursting king of comedy Chris Farley. All three have recently become immortalized in documentaries focused on their lives, crafts and offering glimpses into their intimate relationships, constantly trying to piece together who they were and how the end came to be.
In Brett Morgen’s Montage of Heck, you become engulfed in the beautiful madness that is the life of Kurt Cobain. The documentary comes off as an extremely intense and lengthy episode of A&E’s hit show Intervention. A show I can never seem to resist. The doc follows a poetic and linear plot line commencing with the early years of Cobain’s life and taking the plunge into the heart of his addiction. The myriad flashes of cartoons, splattered scribbles in memo notebooks, voice recording overlays and snippets of shaky home videos allows you to delve in to the private portals of Kurt Cobain’s mind, revealing his hypersensitivity and unveiling him as a true talent and underdog. As a viewer, I felt as though I was violating Cobain’s privacy while I watched his rise from a rejected teenager to the God of Grunge. Morgen does do Cobain justice, presenting his life, descent in to stardom and rebellion against fame with raw humanity. This documentary is a vivid and ethereal experience. You are not solely a voyeur in to Cobain’s life, but an active participant in the montage of heck.
On par with Morgen is Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Amy Winehouse. His recently released Amy is an exquisite compilation of archival footage and interviews that dissect the chanteuse’s descent in to the infamous 27 club. Kapadia intimately discloses Amy Winehouse’s life story, highlighting her unparalleled talent as a jazz singer, decoding her short body of work as art mimicking life and touches upon her tumultuous relationships with her loved ones and the media. The film is piercing and when watching I couldn’t help, but feel a pang in my stomach while witnessing the deterioration both physically and mentally of another great talent. Kapadia strikes a very sensitive chord with this film and simply showcases another young creative looking for love and seeking acceptance in a world full of chaos.
After watching Cobain & Winehouse’s documentaries, I couldn’t help but feel a cloud of darkness surround me and Brent Hodge and Derik Murray’s I am Chris Farley was the perfect cure to my addiction doc blues. This film literally uplifted my spirits instantaneously and reminded me of Farley’s contagious comedic brilliance. From flashes of infamous SNL skits (“Chippendales” is my personal favourite) to candid interviews of celebrity friends, family and loved ones who bear the reminder of his untimely death, I am Chris Farley allows you to relish in Farley’s unsurmountable humour and ability to make you laugh behind his own guise of unhappiness. Comedians like this simply do not exist anymore. The generation Farley encompassed continued on, but as several interviewees acknowledge in the doc, never were the same again. Just as his predecessor John Belushi, lost his life to the woes of addiction, Farley followed suit and in I am Chris Farley we watch as the people left behind reminisce about his immense talent and the comedic void that can never be filled in his absence.
The resurrection of these addiction documentaries put legends at the forefront and allow us to indulge in our infatuation with witnessing the rise and fall of such talented individuals. Ultimately, these riveting and well executed documentaries explore the duality of each of these talents, their ability to assume public personas and the harsh reality of their tortured souls behind closed doors. In the end, the result is the same. No matter how hard we attempt to recreate, resolve and restore these characters in real life or on the big screen, they are forever lost.