\'About a Son\'

    icon Oct 23, 2008
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Director AJ Schnack's unparalleled documentation of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain  - apparently named for the band's song "About a Girl," is more than aptly titled.

The film, essentially a chronological, verbal documentary, was born from more than 25 hours of interview footage of Cobain recorded by journalist Michael Azerrad the year before Cobain's suicide.

Through his own words, Cobain demonstrates he was the "son," or product, of many: his parents, an absentee father and aloof mother; a dull suburban Washington State existence that drove him to seek greater excitement; and an inevitable musical sea change in the late 1980s.

Schnack takes us through Cobain's childhood years to the brink of his demise.

Neither Cobain nor Azerrad appear in the film. Schnack brilliantly replaces smoky, tea-drinking film footage with images of everyday people. Unlike the multiple reincarnations of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," these people don't speak and rarely show emotion. The men and women of all races randomly appear as Schnack takes where Cobain lived, worked and performed in Aberdeen, Olympia, Seattle and beyond.

It becomes apparent early on that Azerrad has exclusive access to Cobain, as the artist explains that he was happy until age 8, when it becomes even more apparent he was a manic-depressive. He explains how he saw most classmates as mere robotic-like imbeciles, and behaved as a homosexual in high school to play up rumors about his sexuality.

For 14 years Nirvana fans have been fed a mostly media-generated image of Cobain - that of a spoiled rock star posing as an anti-industry figurehead. We recall Axl Rose referring to Cobain as a "F*#x junky with a junky wife," who should "go to prison" if their daughter, Frances Bean, was born deformed. We remember Ted Nugent calling Cobain a "weenie" for taking his life with a wife and child at home.

While these comments have some element of truth, "About a Son" provides a different portrait of Cobain – one of a disturbed young man who recognized his talent and potential early on in life. Of someone who seems sincere when he says he would rather be in a band on the brink of success than in one touring stadiums around the world. Of a soul who sought treatment for an unnamed abdominal ailment, but self-medicated to stave off depression rather than seek treatment.

In the end, "About a Son" is a portrait of a tormented artist struggling to stay a half step ahead of the demons that ultimately consumed him.

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