This week on the music beat

SMELLS LIKE MEAN SPIRIT Did Courtney Love murder Kurt Cobain? Kurt and Courtney, a documentary by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield, examines and ultimately rejects that theory. But one thing Broomfield has no doubts about is that Cobain’s widow is trying to kill his film. Broomfield’s controversial effort paints the volatile rocker/actress in a highly unflattering light and includes interviews with several individuals (including Love’s father) who claim Love may have played a role in her late husband’s death.

Last week, in an unprecedented move, the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, pulled Broomfield’s film from its lineup, citing legal threats from Love’s attorneys as well as Cobain’s estate, EMI Music Publishing, which owns the rights to two songs used in the movie, and the BBC (which claims it owns the film). Sundance Institute executive director Kenneth S. Brecher says the last-minute decision not to screen the film was made under duress and only after “our lawyers [had] looked for every way we could possibly find for us to show it.”

Despite the spectre of lawsuits, an elite audience of about 150 saw a rush-edited version of the movie Jan. 19. The hush-hush screening, organized by Broomfield’s handlers, was sponsored by Slamdunk, an upstart alternative festival to Sundance. According to one viewer, Kurt and Courtney “leaves the impression that she was an ambitious careerist who was using him and may have driven him to suicide.” Broomfield, 49, vows Kurt and Courtney will see a theatrical release and may be close to a distribution deal. Still, he says, Love “has been somewhat more successful [in stopping the film] than I would’ve liked.” Meanwhile, the feeling at Sundance is that Love, an ostensible defender of free speech, is the ultimate loser in the flap. Said Sundance Institute president Robert Redford: “It seems ironic that [Love] would be conducting a campaign to prevent another artist from expressing himself.”

(additional reporting by Tricia Laine, Gregg Kilday, and Chris Nashawaty)