Movie Review: About a Son

By Ryan Pike

When debating the most influential musical figures of the past quarter century, the name Kurt Cobain is brought up constantly. Despite being one of the most prominent figures of his time, Cobain’s reluctance to fame and elusive public persona made him difficult for fans to get to know. His distrust of the media certainly didn’t help matters.

Despite Cobain’s preference for solitude, journalist Michael Azerrad managed to conduct extensive interviews with Nirvana for his book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Widely considered the definitive book on the band, it was published a scant six months before Cobain’s demise. Given the book’s success, it was inevitable that a documentary version would emerge, and in 2006 filmmaker A.J. Schnack teamed with Azerrad to transform 25 hours of Cobain interviews into Kurt Cobain About a Son.

Comprised of Cobain’s remembrances of his life, beginning with his childhood and progressing up to Nirvana’s emergence, About a Son lays the interviews overtop of a wide array of footage, usually related to what Cobain’s talking about. For example, when Cobain reminisces about his childhood in Aberdeen, Washington, we see footage of the town. When Cobain talks about his father taking him to work at the logging yard, we see footage of a logging yard. The approach doesn’t detract from what Cobain’s discussing, but rarely enhances it.

Despite the visual elements being a bit drab, About a Son features solid editing and good use of incidental music. Cobain’s frank and honest manner alone is worth the hour and a half spent listening to him. Throughout the film, two messages are obvious: Kurt Cobain was cripplingly self-aware, and the speculation as to his suicide should be considerably less so. The first contention is pretty obvious from the get-go, with Cobain discussing his relationship with his father, his mother and the various other people in his life–including Courtney Love and Nirvana bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic.

The second message is much more subtle. Throughout the film, Cobain mentions living in chronic pain from a combination of scoliosis and a severe stomach ailment. Cobain repeatedly mentions how his stomach plagued him throughout his music career, citing how the pain went away when he used drugs. He also repeatedly mentions suffering from depression, and at one point flat-out states he had thought about killing himself.

Even though he’s been dead for nearly 13 years, fans of Kurt Cobain can get a chance to get to know him with About a Son. While containing no Nirvana song clips or footage of Cobain himself, the exposure to all the Cobain interviews makes the film worthwhile. It may just be Kurt Cobain talking for an hour and a half, but that’s definitely not a bad thing.

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