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Kurt Cobain: About a Son

Kurt Cobain: About a Son

Director:Aj Schnack
Cast:Kurt Cobain
Release Date:2008

By Michael Byrne | Posted 2/20/2008

Shout! Factory

THE MOVIE It sounds like the impossible task: demythologizing Kurt Cobain. Yet, AJ Schnack actually found a way to create and distribute a movie that doesn't fawn over him, that doesn't include Nirvana music, concert footage, or even a photo of Cobain--until very briefly at the end. Instead, all you hear is his voice, talking to an interviewer who stays mostly silent. All you see are images of Cobain's Cascadian homes--backwoods Aberdeen, boho Olympia, home-of-Mudhoney Seattle, all present day--spliced together into a visual mélange that could serve almost as well accompanying a Travel Channel survey of the Pacific Northwest.

Any trace of Cobain in About a Son's shots is implied by the narrative: Is the damp lumberyard so exhaustively, and beautifully, shot the same one that Cobain's father used to take him to as a young kid, where he used to play cops and robbers among the piles of 2-by-4's? Dunno.

And it's not quite the point. In the end, this really isn't documentary, which is partly how the movie succeeds--at this point, after who knows how may Cobain retrospectives, all anyone can do is offer another perspective. And most of those are exhausted--Cobain's somewhere beyond myth now.

Amazingly, Schnack has found another viewpoint: Cobain's--and only Cobain's. For two years in the early 1990s writer Michael Azerrad sat with Cobain and a tape recorder, usually in the middle of the night, and just let him talk. The some 25 hours of tape were meant originally just for a book, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, but here have been edited down to 90 minutes of what amounts to candid autobiography.

It sounds like the ultimate shred of fan paraphernalia. How much closer to the man can you get than his voice, telling it like it is, over a soundtrack of his favorite music (no surprises: Leadbelly, Melvins, Scratch Acid)? You don't hear a genius talking at all. You hear a dude, a classic anti-social teen who actually had a pretty happy childhood, who never grew out of being an anti-social teen, the sort of kid--who wants to be a geek but is still somehow too cool for them--who might've taken a machine gun into school one day and . . . you know. And that's coming from his mouth, mind you.

He talks about things that he doesn't like: money, work, journalists ("they all want to see us die"), scenes, bandmates, and so forth, and then even a little further. And there's nothing particularly profound or noble about any of it. Even as Cobain foreshadows his own death with a resignation that makes you wonder if he wasn't born with a shotgun in his mouth--"I've thought about dying all my life"--your pity is more with the fans who loved him than the man himself, something only Cobain could accomplish with his own words.

THE EXTRAS Given the movie is entirely voice-over, the bonus commentary by Schnack isn't that alluring. Also included is a short bit on location scouting and a quickie behind-the-scenes featurette.

E-mail Michael Byrne

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