NFC reviews "About a Son"

A Sidetrack Films presentation of a Bonfire Films of America production. Produced by Shirley Moyers, Noah Khoshbin, Chris Green. Executive producer, Ravi Anne. Co-producer, Michael Azerrad. Directed by A.J. Schnack.

AJ Schnack's new film About a Son is by no means a Nirvana documentary. In fact, the word "Nirvana" is only spoken once in the entire film, and it comes up when Cobain is talking about his plans to work with other musicians, jamming with his wife, etc. It contains no Nirvana music or concert footage, and no other interviews.

It is even difficult to call it a Kurt Cobain documentary which would instantly allude to the existing range of Cobain docs and bios. No, this is a very different portrayal. It can best be classified as a solid mix of clips from a personal interview with a person who would go on to become the biggest rock star in the world.

The interview clips - the 'narration' provided by Cobain throughout the entire film - provides an entirely new, fresh perspective of a person that was just that - a regular human being. In every other biography and documentary, Cobain is made out to be this larger-than-life Rock God who had a troubled life (bad childhood, drugs, unwanted fame) and who eventually blew his brains out. The classic rock star cliché.

But with this movie, you spend some 90 minutes in the company of a man who, for one, comes off as a very likeable and pleasant person. He's frank and very self-aware, but also positive and even upbeat at times. Perhaps most surprisingly, he's funny! Cobain's sense of humor has rarely been exposed in other arenas, and he tells a number of quite amusing stories.

The aura surrounding him is brought down to earth and, indeed, as director AJ Schnack told me in an interview last year, the main objective of this project is attempting to tear away his iconic and mythical status, and just expose the human being Kurt Cobain. This is definitely achieved. In addition, while the documentary is not particularly focused on Nirvana as I mentioned initially, you do get a broad insight into his inspiration as a musician and how everything started. It's also fun to get a definite, straight from the horses's mouth source of some of the facts and stories that you'll find in pretty much any Nirvana bio - for example how Kurt wanted to start a band with Krist, and how he gave him a copy of the 'Fecal Matter' tape.

To sum up, the interview footage, while varying a lot in quality and occasionally disturbed by Kurt's chewing on something, or constant background noise, seems to have been very skillfully selected and edited.

Now, as for the visual side, and the aspect that makes this a movie in the first place - there is less to say. The good part is that a lot of Charles Peterson's classic photography is displayed throughout, especially near the end of the film. The rest of the time, the visual side (often still imagery) is more or less supposed to reflect what Kurt is talking about. All the footage you see is shot in Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle, Washington. It shows various places around those cities that are important to the Cobain story, for example Kurt's old high school and the KAOS Radio station, and it shows people currently residing and working in those places.

For the most part, though, at least to me the footage seemed unnecessary and downright silly at times. There were moments where it even became annoying and distracting to watch the visual side and you felt tempted to close your eyes and focus on Kurt's voice instead. But ultimately it works out, since the images only serve as a backdrop to the real focus of the film - Kurt's voice which should be the center of attention. It's almost like one of those educational movies where the narrator's voice is the most essential and the visual side only serves as a helper to underscore and demonstrate what is being said. A fancy Powerpoint presentation if you will!

Personally, though, the visual side is probably a bit artsy for my taste (perhaps underlined by the fact that I despised Last Days) and I would probably have been equally pleased by this project if it had come out in the form of interview CDs. That being said, it's a very fresh and creative take on the Cobain story and it's great that this remarkable interview footage is released in some form.

It's definitely worth - if not a watch - then at least a listen, for any fan of Nirvana or Cobain.

Posted in NFC news section at on 04-03-2007 @ 2:15 PM (GMT).

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