Nirvana/Courtney Love Film’s Legal Limbo

For now at least… the eagerly-anticipated
film of the seminal Seattle grunge band is set to head back to court later this
month.

 

By Fred
Mills

 

Several
years ago, in 2007 as a staffer for Harp magazine (BLURT’s predecessor, natch) I reported on the filming of the rock
documentary and quasi-biopic Nirvana:
Here We Were Now
. Featuring a dyed-dirty-blonde (and slimmed-down) Elijah
Wood in the role of Kurt Cobain, it was to be released as a joint venture
between Warner Bros. films and Universal Music sometime in 2008 or 2009 – and
then, nothing.

 

Rumors
soon surfaced about a firestorm of legal events that involved filmmakers pitted
against bandmembers, Seattle
scenesters taking sides and squaring off against one another, and most
significantly, a lot of duking things out between lawyers. The film went to
court last year with the core feud centering around Warner Bros.’ efforts to
secure the necessary synchronization license from Universal that will
allow the film to contain actual Nirvana songs (as opposed to, say, Wood and a
group of pickup musicians doing lame Nirvana covers – you can easily see where
this all could have gone… Velvet Goldmine for the grunge era).

 

What’s
interesting is that as recently as the summer of 2010 the film had a full
schedule of theatrical screenings in place and was set for imminent DVD
release before a curious decision was made to deny the requisite synchronization
license for the Nirvana music publishing. 

 

That
decision, initiated by Universal at the behest of Courtney Love, Cobain’s
widow, ignited a firestorm of controversy, given that Love had
long supported the film’s production saying “The filmmakers have done
a fabulous job of telling the story of Nirvana… the story is finally
getting told and told right.” The documentary had been poised to make
a major splash, and there had been one single ticketed public screening, a
benefit last year for Seattle
radio station KEXP-FM held at the Seattle International Film Festival.

 

Having
successfully blocked the film’s release, Love then filed an additional suit in
federal court in October over a purported “music producer” position and
alleging a variety of copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract
claims against the filmmakers.

 

[Much
speculation has been made by pundits and bloggers over Love’s actual
motivation, as she is depicted in the film in a distinctively unflattering
light. Tellingly, however, Love has not attempted to sue for defamation of
character or something similar, perhaps because she already walked through that
particular courtroom door
earlier this year to the tune of $430k.]

 

 

After
hearing extensive testimony and reviewing the evidence presented during a week-long
trial held in November in Santa Ana, California, the judge dismissed all
charges against the filmmakers, concluding there was “insufficient
factual basis to establish any claim” against the filmmakers. In the
decision the judge found “no terms specific enough to form an enforceable
contract were ever agreed upon,” that the filmmakers had “not made any
actionable false representations” to Love, and that the dispute arose
only after the filmmakers “demonstrated that the film they were crafting could
be successful,” adding, “Nirvana is historically significant and its music and
story merit being heard today. The film had and still has the potential to
spread the music and story of the Nirvana.”

 

Love,
subsequently joined in the suit by former Nirvana bandmembers Dave Grohl and
Krist Novoselic, quickly appealed the decision and the case is now slated to be
heard in a federal appeals court in Los
Angeles starting April 15 – significantly, on Tax Day.

 

With that
in mind, we all know what this is really about,
right? M-O-N-E-Y…

 

 

 

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