Kurt Cobain: About a Son
Dir. AJ Schnack ( 2006 )
So much has been written about Cobain and Nirvana, making it difficult to decipher the sensationalism from the truth when hearing about Generation X’s fallen idol.
However it was with great joy that I watched About a Son recently. It’s non-celebrity approach to the tale of Cobain’s life and demise is refreshing and also a little heartbreaking. Rather than feature an endless line of band mates, label execs and hangers on blowing their own horns, film maker AJ Schnack juxtaposes tape recordings of interviews between author Michael Azerrad and Cobain against a shifting carousel of imagery relating to the places and times that the singer lived in.
As viewers we don’t even get to see an image of Cobain or Nirvana until the very end of the film, and this technique only heightens the ghostly sound of his voice. It’s a powerful expression of Cobain’s loneliness as the world lay at his feet.
The interviews, which took place in the years leading up to Kurt’s death, are informal and Cobain speaks with surprising candour. He discusses in heartfelt detail his awkward childhood, family and life on the streets. We come to realise that Cobain wasn’t the angst ridden nihilist the media portrayed him to be (surprise!). Angry, yes, but overall he was an articulate, intelligent and even humorous guy. This insight makes the audience feel even sadder about his suicide. Maybe it didn’t have to end that way.
What I found most interesting was his relationship with the rest of Nirvana; Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. He discusses the rift established after requesting a larger share of royalties, for being the chief song writer and bearing the brunt of the tabloid craziness. Likely a common conflict among musicians, and understandably Grohl and Novoselic didn’t respond well. What’s interesting is that Grohl, for instance, has gone on to become a hugely successful pop-rock songwriter with the Foo Fighters, and one has to wonder whether Kurt was perhaps a little selfish about the writing duties within Nirvana.
It’s so easy for biographical documentaries of this nature to be apple polishing schlock. But by taking a chance with the format of his film, Schnack has created a vivid and telling recollection of the 1990’s greatest rock explosion. Highly recommended.