- Rated NR
Reviewed by Andy Kurtz
rom the moment he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger at the tender age of 27, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and songwriter of the rock band Nirvana, has been mythologized to an almost ridiculous extent. Not to say that the man was not talented – he was very much so. Cobain nearly single-handedly saved us from the mediocrity and preposterousness of 80’s hair metal pop music with his own unique punk/pop rock sound. But before and since his death, Cobain has been the subject of overzealous media hype that has generated everything from ludicrous conspiracy theories to unbridled worship or hatred of the man.
Now comes AJ Schnack’s refreshingly honest look at this man’s life in “Kurt Cobain: About a Son.” Eschewing the standard documentary model of interviewing personal or professional peers to provide insight into a subject, “About a Son” is completely narrated by Cobain himself utilizing interviews recorded before his death. The result is a somewhat eerie but revealing and intimate first-hand account of the man’s life growing up in the northwestern United States.
Schnack divides the film in three chapters – first documenting Cobain’s childhood in the logging town of Aberdeen, then moving on to his emergence and growth as an artist in the more bohemian Olympia, and finally his later life in Seattle. Although the chapters are similar in tone, each portion, through Cobain’s narration and Schnack’s sobering views into modern-day life in these areas, affectively provides insight into the life of a man who ambivalently, and often rather humorously, guides us through his experiences in each town.
One aspect of the film that may disappoint some fans is the complete absence of any Nirvana songs in the movie. When one goes to a documentary on the life of Kurt Cobain, they would reasonably expect this. Schnack, however, forgoes this tempting cliché and infuses his film with music that inspired Cobain throughout his life. The result is an even more personal and informative portrait of what drove Cobain as an artist.
Like Kurt Cobain himself, people are probably either going to like this movie or they’re going to hate it. The style of having Cobain’s interview recordings narrate the film is at first a bit off-putting. Not only is hearing the voice of a dead man a bit macabre, it initially seems choppy and random. Most viewers shouldn’t take long adjusting, however, provided Cobain’s voice doesn’t begin to grate on them too much – the man was no James Earl Jones after all. If the adjustment is made, though, there is much to discover.