Oren Moverman Talks About His Approach to Writing Kurt Cobain Biopic: “It’ll Be Raw and Chaotic”

     July 19, 2010


When we first reported that The Messenger writer/director Oren Moverman had signed on to rewrite and helm a Kurt Cobain biopic, Steve (a Messenger devotee) responded thusly:

I’m incredibly excited to see Moverman land the Cobain project.  I don’t want to see a Hollywood version of Cobain’s life.

It sounds like that’s exactly what’s in store according to the Oscar-nominated writer in charge.  Moverman certainly has experience with unconventional musical biopics, what with his co-writing credit for the Bob Dylan-inspired I’m Not There.  That particular job has influenced his approach to the Cobain saga, based in part on the Charles Cross biography Heavier Than Heaven; hit the jump to hear just what Moverman had to say on the matter.

i_m_not_there_movie_posterMoverman’s comments can be found in the unabridged version of a rather excellent feature on musical biopics over at The Guardian [via In Contention].  Moverman offered his I’m Not There-inspired two cents on the genre:

“Biopics can get hung up on authenticity, but our film [I’m Not There] is constantly lying — it’s clearly not a truthful representation of Dylan.  His name isn’t even mentioned.  I can appreciate the frustration of someone who complains that they don’t learn anything about Dylan from the film, but that’s actually true to the experience of trying to understand Dylan; it’s what Dylan himself would want.”

I have fond memories of I’m Not There, but I’m a sucker for enigmatic cinematic oddities like that.  The use of a rotating cast to represent “different aspects of Bob Dylan’s life and music” felt like a fresh (and thus worthwhile) take on the much-dissected life of Dylan.

That said, I wouldn’t necessarily want to see the same technique in Moverman’s new flick.  With, say, Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Kate Winslet, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Garfield, and Bobb’e J. Thompson all depicting various aspects of the Nirvana frontman’s personality.  Though Moverman will eschew the general musical biopic formula, the narrative won’t be quite as opaque as that of I’m Not There:

“It’ll be raw and chaotic, which is what Cobain’s life was like, but it’s more linear than I’m Not There; it’ll take you from A to Z.  People know the shortcut version — he took a lot of heroin, wrote ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, became the biggest rock star in the world, and killed himself.  Those known things about him are to me the least interesting.”

So, really, we have no clearer idea of what a Cobain biopic with Moverman at the helm will look like.  We only know what it won’t look like.  But given that he’s working in a genre that is all too often paint-by-numbers, I find Moverman’s comments encouraging.   At the moment, Moverman also has an adaptation of James Ellroy’s Rampart in the pipeline, which will reunite him with The Messenger stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster.


In case Hollywood’s generally banal approach to the life of a musician is a subject of interest to you, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the Guardian piece in the event you may be convinced to read the whole thing:

“[Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce] singles out Walk the Line as an example of how not to make a biopic.  ‘That really shrinks Johnny Cash, doesn’t it?  Here was a man who struggled with the cosmos, who cared about being justified in the face of God.  And what the film gives you is a guy who had some issues with his father.’ “

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