Thursday, September 28

Breakdowns, Drugs and Courtney Love

Rock’s bad girl is a mess, but not so much that she can’t project an image says Television Review’s own metaller, Miss Ego Odman

She’s known as Kurt Cobain’s widow, as singer of defunct girl-band Hole, and as a perpetual mess. In The Return of Courtney Love (More 4, 9pm) follows a Love who is fresh from rehab as she records new album ‘How Dirty Girls Get Clean.’ The programme’s real aim is not to showcase her music, but to separate the woman from the myth. The viewer never sees the presenter in full, which allows the specially selected clips of Love to do the talking.

Before any tracks can be laid down in the studio, the singer must go through her morning rituals, which involve yoga and Buddhist chanting – pretty standard for Hollywood. In a more candid touch we learn that she chants daily for Cobain, Lindsay Lohan (!) and even more bizarrely, all the horses, dogs and cats of the world (not least her own cat, Fluffy).

Such benevolence is rarely expected from one of the most hated women in rock, but such craziness comes as standard. Besides the fact Love lost her fortune, much is made of her recent mental breakdown, which culminated in her taking heroin for the first time in nine years. She hoped to die, but was treated in hospital and referred back to court for her third drugs possession trial. She is regretful but unapologetic, laughing “if I wasn’t a bit mad I’d be a worthless rock star!”

The documentary makers portray her as a woman who’s firmly back on the wagon, but who could slip off at any moment. She admits to being tempted by coke at a friend’s house, is told off by 13-year-old daughter Frances Bean for smoking during their shopping trip, and slumps on the floor during a late recording session after receiving an unpleasant email. Her behaviour in this last episode is unconvincing. Love is acutely aware that the crew is filming, having already asked them to stay, and she appears to deliberately adopt the pose of someone still on drugs.

Other moments also seem designed to attract attention. In one scene, Courtney takes the crew into her garage and reveals rails and rails of her and Kurt’s old clothes. She picks up a fleece-lined cord jacket, and explains matter-of-factly that Kurt was wearing it when he killed himself. She says that she’s never told anyone before in case people try to steal it, and goes on to describe it as ‘creepy’. So why tell a film crew now? Why sensationalise his death further? She never offers an answer.

The only clues to the real Love lie in her body language, which would be difficult to sustain artificially. In nearly all of the footage she has a cigarette dangling limply from her mouth and rocks backwards and forwards on the spot.

Despite her shortcomings, all stars featured in the documentary have great affection and respect for the original bitch of grunge. Musician and ex-lover Billy Corgan seems resigned to Love’s flighty ways, and tells of a gig in Philadelphia when he spotted his girlfriend out of the corner of his eye – showing her knickers to another man. Meanwhile actress Carrie Fisher acts as a mentor and confidante, advising Love on property and relationships.

The music takes second place to personal revelations in this documentary, and clips are only used to give weight to her confessions. However, the snippets from the recording sessions are compelling. At one point, Love sings onstage with a guitar, her face mimicking Kurt’s in the famous MTV ‘Unplugged’ session. Moreover, her vocals have a Kurt-esque rasp to them, along with a touch of country and her trademark bitch-power.

Producer Linda Perry (Pink, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera) says Love is ‘very talented’, and worries about living up to her professional responsibilities, while Corgan calls her a 'vastly underrated song writer'. Whether the album will be a success is hard to determine, but what is obvious is that the documentary makers – and the public – see Love first and foremost as a creator of personality, rather than of music.

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