MinireviewsInterview with Nick Broomsfeild

KURT AND COURTNEY: INTERVIEW WITH NICK BROOMFIELD
* By Prairie Miller *

Rivaling the tabloid documentaries of Nick Broomfield in the realm of boldness and imagination, are the personal, in house motives which propel him into ever more raw, nervy and in your face moviemaking. Broomfield revealed to me in an intriguing two way conversation how he casts himself in his own fantasy scenarios as the embodiment of the modern adventurer, in the tradition of guys like Jack London and Melville. But the go for broke director of Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam and Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer may have met his match, not to mention his white whale, with Kurt And Courtney. Cobain widow and rocker Courtney Love went on the offensive against Broomfield, and nearly succeeded in shutting his show down through her corporate influences in the rock world. Of course, this just added fuel to Broomfield's creative mission, and he explained why.

PRAIRIE MILLER: After going through the whole experience of making Kurt And Courtney, what is your personal take on the reasons behind Kurt Cobain's death?

NICK BROOMFIELD: I think that he committed suicide. I don't think that there's a smoking gun. And I think there's only one way you can explain a lot of things around his death. Not that he was murdered, but that there was just a lack of caring for him. I just think that Courtney had moved on, and he was expendable.

PM: Did the process of making this movie change any of your preconceived notions about either Kurt or Courtney?

NB: I fully expected Courtney to take part in the film, and to use it in a positive way to explain a lot of things that were being said about Kurt's death. And I fully expected her to be very likeable and charismatic, in the same way for example that Heidi Fleiss was in my film about her.

I was really astonished when Courtney tried to control the film. You know, with the BBC and MTV, and trying to block me from getting any of the music. I was really astonished and amazed. That gave a lot more credibility to some of the stories that people were saying about her. I thought a lot of the things that were being said were very extreme, but after awhile I came to believe them. And that was directly borne out of my own experiences in making this film. It was really like a diary. I didn't go into this thinking anything negative at all about Courtney.

It was actually made with a lot of reluctance. I mean, for me it would have been much more satisfying to make a film about someone whom I could say, all these bad things are being said, but she's such a wonderful person. I didn't get any satisfaction out of making what I believe to be a truthful, but nonetheless very dark portrait of someone.

PM: Is she still harassing you in any way?

NB: No.

PM: She gave up?

NB: Yeah.

PM: And what about your preconceived notions related to Kurt Cobain?

NB: With him it was probably the opposite. The people who were close to him were incredibly moved by him. And I think he was a very sensitive character who grew up under very difficult conditions. You know, he grew up in a logging town among big, tough loggers, and he was a very sensitive creature. He was an artist. He wrote poems and painted. He liked to play his guitar and didn't fit in, and he frequently got beaten up.

He didn't really have a mother past the age of eight or nine, and was shunted around between friends and relatives. You know, he was a lonely, unhappy child, and he really moved a lot of people. I think women wanted to mother him. I think there was a heart in him that really cried out for help, and women especially responded to that.

PM: How did the American Civil Liberties Union respond to you catching them on film denying you free speech at their convention?

NB: I imagine with embarrassment.

PM: How did you get into your strange line of work, and what excites you about running after mysterious and weird people in your search for answers about them?

NB: Umm...Well, I don't know that it's that strange. It's just a way of documenting contemporary history. In a way.

And I think that these people are all part of our history. Maybe they aren't the most historical figures in a necessarily respectable way, but they are nonetheless very indicative of aspects of our culture and the way it operates. And in a way, I think they're more reflective of our society than even some of the more established figures.

PM: What was your original inspiration to make movies?

NB: I always loved the writings of Jack London. You know, he would travel around the world and write about things, and film was a great opportunity to do that. And being paid to do it. I loved that book by Jack London called People Of The Abyss, which he wrote in London at the turn of the century. I thought, I obviously can't jump on to a sailing boat like he did, which is very romantic. In a way, that whole era of transport around the world and the British Empire and everything had gone. But I think what I did was the next best thing for me, at this time in history.

PM: You 've made one feature film, Dark Obsession. Do you see yourself as obsessed?

NB:...Yeah! I think unfortunately that you have to be obsessed. At least part of my brain doesn't start working properly until I become obsessed. I wish I could make these films in a more reasonable fashion. But I'm probably not talented enough to achieve that.

PM: You're really into the issue of censorship. Have you ever been guilty of self-censorship?

NB: No. My films are really like a roller coaster ride that I try to stay on. And they're vehicles of discovery where you look for what you really believe went on. You kind of promise to yourself and your audience that that's what you're doing.

Like in Kurt And Courtney, discovering that a lot of things said about Courtney were true, was not a wonderful discovery. That was something I really resisted and fought against. It was nonetheless something that was there, and I did it. But I didn't want to do it. The thing I always ask myself at the end of all these films is, do they represent my experience of what really happened when I was making them. And do I believe basically what I'm putting across. And that's pretty much how I conceive my films, and how I hope they're perceived.

PM: Do you feel any connection to Michael Moore and his muckraking style of moviemaking in Roger And Me and The Big One?

NB: I think Michael is more obviously political with a big P. And he's very specifically interested in corporate power, which I'm not so much. But stylistically I think there are obvious similarities in the way that we work.

PM: Do you ever worry that the questionable people you interview may bring a movie like Kurt And Courtney closer to the line separating fiction and documentary?

NB: I think that particular subculture is full of very marginal characters, and the film is a portrait of those people. You know, you don't expect to get people who operate like nuclear physicists in the world of rock 'n roll, where most people are on one substance or another. Very few of those people are dealing with reality without looking at it through some hazy drug or another. But I think what I'm doing is portraying that world and its substance. I'm not necessarily looking for objective truth. I'm trying to convey to an audience what it's like to interact with these people, and get the truth out of them. I'm not making a film where there are going to be a lot of experts in white coats telling the audience what the situation is. I don't like those kinds of films.

PM: What is your fascination as an outsider with American culture in so many of your movies?

NB: The rest of the world looks to America with a fascination. You know, I think if I were alive eighty years ago, I probably would have made films about England, when England still had an empire and was preeminent. People aren't interested in British culture anymore, unless it's about Diana or Monty Python.

PM: You seem to focus a lot on strange women in your films. You know, Courtney, Aileen Wuornos, Heidi Fleiss and, uh, Margaret Thatcher. Is that more than coincidence?

NB: I think I am more interested in women than in men. But I have made twenty three films, and under slightly half of those have to do with men. For example, I did a movie about the head of the neo-nazi party in South Africa. But the more high profile films that have been shown in this country have to do with women.

However, I do find women more interesting. You know, women have been through a lot more interesting changes than men over the last twenty years. They went through the whole feminist movement, and I think the position of women has really changed in society in terms of what's expected of them and from them. And the women I choose are all moderately powerful.

For example, Madonna and Courtney. There weren't any female rock stars. I do think that women have gone through a lot of changes in terms of their expectations and expectations of them, which makes them a little bit more interesting. To me anyway.

And Margaret Thatcher was someone who had dominated English politics for so long, and had completely changed the political thinking. I wanted to try and understand more what it was about. I didn't really understand the basis of Thatcherism and where it had come from. So I just did that more for self-education than anything else.

PM: What are you surprising us with next?

NB: I'm about to start this series of films about political leaders. It will be about Afarat, Castro, and maybe an Al D'Amato.

PM: How are you going to approach Fidel Castro? NB: Umm...I don't know.

PM: Now that you've immersed yourself in Kurt And Courtney, what are your conclusions about the current state of the rock world and where it's headed?

NB: I've got no idea. No idea.

PM: What do you think is your distinct recipe for success in terms of your style of moviemaking?

NB: I work very much using a diary. The films are a diary of my experiences. That's how they're conceived, and that's how they develop. Then I try to explain some of the steps to the audience, so that they are taken on a journey with me. It's very simple, really.

PM: And is it difficult for you to be on the other side of an interview, under interrogation like this?

NB: No!...Not entirely.

Copyright 1998 by Prairie Miller

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