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Kurt Cobain: About a Son Reviews

Aside from a few black-and-white photographs, Kurt Cobain never appears in this documentary, nor is a single note of his music ever heard. Instead, filmmaker AJ Schnack's hauntingly beautiful film is a bold and successful attempt to recover the human being who disappeared under the heavy mantle of "face and voice of a lost generation," and whose life has been increasingly overshadowed by his sensational early death in 1994. Schnack uses the hours of interviews music biographer Michael Azerrad conducted with Cobain between December 1992 and March 1993 (the last took place a year before Cobain's death) for his acclaimed book Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, and Cobain's is the only voice heard throughout the film. Beginning with a happy childhood in damp logging town Aberdeen, Washington, that abruptly ended with the trauma of his parents' divorce, Cobain tells his own story: miserable high-school years during which he developed the deep suspicion and hostility toward "normal" people that lasted the rest of his short life; the love affair with punk rock Cobain claims was his salvation; the time spent among pop radicals in the bohemian college town of Olympia, Washington; and finally, success and stardom in Seattle. The details surrounding the founding of Nirvana are vague (Azerrad's book fills in the blanks), but the agony Cobain suffered from a chronic but undiagnosed stomach ailment — pain that often led him to consider suicide — and the relief he found in heroin are crystal clear. Cobain and wife Courtney Love hoped Azerrad's book would help counter the tabloid attacks that came in the wake of Lynn Hirschberg's notorious Vanity Fair article, which accused Love of reckless drug use while pregnant, and the couple promised to be as honest as possible (although Love is never interviewed, she can be heard in the background reminding Cobain to prepare a bottle of Similac for baby Frances before coming to bed — a moment of mundane domesticity that's heartbreaking in retrospect). Cobain is forthcoming, particularly about his drug use and hatred of the press, and while his voice sometimes sounds woozy (most of the interviews were conducted between midnight and dawn), it's always intimate, articulate, enormously empathetic and at odds with the lost-boy frailty of his appearance. Schnack sets Cobain's words against time-lapse cityscapes, domestic still lifes, rotoscoped animation, Charles Peterson's famous Grunge-scene photos and portraits of the ordinary denizens of Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle, the kind of people Cobain might have known or even, under different circumstances, become. An exciting soundtrack featuring the music of Cobain's life — everyone from Arlo Guthrie, Queen and Cheap Trick to Half Japanese, the Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Scratch Acid and the Melvins — accompanies the stunning cinematography. The effect is austerely beautiful and deeply moving — a total immersion in the world from which Cobain came and which he left permanently altered not long after.