It’s almost exactly an hour into About A Son before the first image of
Kurt Cobain hits the screen. A series of still on-stage photos
flickers in montage, then fades away. Only at the film’s end does
anything like a portrait of the singer fill the frame. The rest of the
images are almost abstract: the camera stares at people on the street
in Seattle, follows a homey little band in Olympia, and grabs close-up
detail of a lumber yard at work.
A.J. Schnack’s film could be called an indirect portrait of Cobain,
though it uses the songwriter’s words. Building on audio interviews
conducted by producer Michael Azzerad for his book Come As You Are:
The Story of Nirvana between December 1992 and March 1993, About A Son
layers Cobain’s statements with images of his home down of Aberdeen,
WA, Olympia and Seattle. A Nirvana song never graces the soundtrack,
which is instead packed with Creedence, Springsteen, Big Black and The
Vaselines. Massive Nirvana influence The Pixies are conspicuously
absent, both on the soundtrack and as a topic in Cobain’s
A cynic weary of Cobain’s name and influence might claim that the film
is the ultimate deification, as the star’s voice issues seemingly from
the heavens to instruct a legion of post-grunge Washington citizens.
But that would be absurd. About A Son makes every possible attempt to
strip away bestowed royalty and deification. Cobain’s own words reveal
him to be unstable, paranoid and contradictory. He’ll revel in
Courtney Love’s innate ability to cause a scene, then fail to
understand why they, as a couple, make such good fodder for the press.
This Kurt isn’t a charismatic rock star; he’s just a troubled, average
Schnack’s images both illustrate Cobain’s oral history and refute his
proclamations. On the soundtrack, Cobain dismisses his father’s lumber
yard job as easy, while the footage suggests that the job might have
taken at least serious concentration, if not a degree in rocket
The soundtrack also contributes to the textured portrait. Death Cab
For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard collaborates on the original score with
Steve Fisk. Gibbard’s career, propelled out of anonymity into stardom,
is currently at a point analogous to Cobain’s when the interviews were
carried out. And as Cobain pines for the days when shows seem full of
potential, Schnack lays in footage of band of the moment Band of
Horses playing a small gig.
The films’ technique and wit turn out to be the main attraction.
Cobain is equally likeable and arrogant, and it’s easy to zone into a
point where his words and Schnack’s images combine into an unlikely
alloy that upholds Cobain’s legend even while tearing it down.
8.1 out of 10