Is Nick Broomfield dumb or just playing dumb? Crazy or crazy like a fox? With such documentaries as Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam and last year's Fetishes under his belt, Broomfield has established himself as the Don Quixote of sleaze--a middle-aged knight-errant roaming the sexual wilderness, with a boom mike instead of a lance, earphones instead of a helmet, and a cameraman trailing along behind him, like Sancho Panza. Don Quixote was an impossible dreamer, of course, and the laid-back Broomfield can be impossibly dreamy as well. When he's interviewing someone, the questions float across the screen like soap bubbles. As a result, it's often hard to tell where Broomfield's movies are headed. This casual, tilting-at-windmills approach has gotten him compared to Michael Moore. The difference is that Moore tilts at windmills because they might be giants. Broomfield tilts at windmills because they might be midgets. I could have told Broomfield that Courtney Love, the still-alive half of Kurt and Courtney, his latest documentary, is closer to a giant than a midget. You only have to trace her career path--from Hollywood stripper to Hollywood actress, with a continuing gig as the First Lady of Grunge Rock--to see that. A foul-mouthed punk who issues death threats when she doesn't like the press coverage she's receiving, Love is as close as girl rock has gotten to an outright force of nature. And when Kurt Cobain used that 20-gauge shotgun to achieve nirvana, she ascended into the pantheon of America's celebrity widows--Jackie, Yoko, etc. Some have called her a black widow. Certain death-scene details (e.g., no prints on the shotgun) set the Internet ablaze with conspiracy theories. Eventually, even Love's own father, a former Deadhead, penned a little volume called Who Killed Kurt Cobain? Broomfield, who has a nose for such things, smelled a story. Unfortunately, he hasn't brought back a story. Kurt and Courtney is, at best, a meander through the dark and dank shadows cast by an outrageous woman and her outrageously successful husband. At worst, it's a hit job. Like a giant, Love tried to squash the documentary when she found out what Broomfield was up to. (Showtime withdrew its funding in the middle of the project, allegedly because Love put the squeeze on its sister company, MTV. Later, the Sundance Film Festival suddenly dropped the movie from its 1998 lineup when there was a dispute over music rights.) And it's hard not to see Kurt and Courtney as an act of revenge on Broomfield's part. Early on in the movie, he claims he originally came to praise Love, not bury her. What's more likely is that he came simply to see what would turn up. Sifting through the trash for gold is a perfectly fine way to make a documentary, but you damn well better find some gold. Otherwise, you might as well be working for "A Current Affair." Broomfield may think he's found some gold, but it's fool's gold. After spending a half-hour or so establishing that Cobain was a tortured genius, he goes to work on those conspiracy theories, ushering in a line of witnesses who make Kato Kaelin look like Billy Graham. There's an old boyfriend of Love's, who remembers how Love once included, as part of her how-to-get-ahead-in-the-rock-business plan, "Become friends with Michael Stipe." There's a woman who had the same drug connection as Kurt and Courtney: She thought Love was loud and obnoxious. There's El Duce, a fuzzy-wuzzy but mostly scuzzy punk-rocker who claims Love offered him $50,000 to "whack" Cobain but refuses to elaborate unless Broomfield comes up with some beer. And, of course, there's Love's father, who can't prove Love murdered her husband but sure acts like he wishes he could. Alas, the whole sorry charade seems like something from the far side of Lewis Carroll. Call it Malice in Wonderland.
And then, about an hour into the movie, Broomfield suddenly drops the conspiracy-theory idea, like a dog tired of chewing on a bone. What follows is a quote-unquote exposé of Love's attempt to reshape her image and reposition her career--from the demimonde to the demitasse monde. This might have been interesting if Broomfield weren't so hell-bent on settling scores. He finally shows up at an ACLU black-tie affair where Love is presenting an award and commandeers the microphone before being thrown out. By this point, I was ready to throw him out of the country. Broomfield has always had trouble keeping his stories straight, but at least his other movies had stories. Kurt and Courtney is a cinematic ambush that doesn't land a punch. Which is a shame, because a fascinating movie might have been made out of the role Love did play in Cobain's suicide. Instead, Broomfield spends an hour and a half establishing the fact that Courtney Love is a bitch. Tell us something we don't already know.