Intended, presumably, for Nirvana fans still wanting a glimpse into the tormented soul of Kurt Cobain, "About a Son" is less a documentary than a first-person account of his experiences in and out of the band, set against a background of snapshots from the Washington cities where he lived — Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle. While not as intrusive or blatantly morbid as the late singer’s published diaries, it provides an eerie, unsettling picture, never more so than when Cobain speaks casually about his desire to kill himself.
Amassed from the roughly 25 hours of taped interviews journalist Michael Azerrad used to write his 1993 book, "Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana," the film offers some unique insights into Cobain’s life — he was, by his admission, unduly irritated by flies throughout his 27 years — and some that have been well-documented.
By now, his disdain for jocks, his crippling stomachaches and his $400-a-day drug habit are common knowledge among the initiated. Still, it is refreshing to hear him reconstruct his early life and the humble beginnings of Nirvana in his own words, rather than through fragmented histories told from an outsider’s perspective.
Not that his observations are particularly sunny. Azerrad’s interviews, the last of which was recorded a year prior to Cobain’s death, find the singer bitter, unfocused and disillusioned by his dealings with the media and even his bandmates, who, he claims, deserved less than an equal share of the profits.
Most troublesome, in his mind, were the legions of fans who wanted a piece of the man behind the music. Despite his desire for fame — "we didn’t want to be one of those fringe bands that nobody paid attention to," he admits — the personal attention that came with it was unwelcome.
As an illustrated audio tour through the life of a gifted but self-destructive performer, "About a Son" is enlightening to a point, but one has to wonder when filmmakers will stop exhuming the corpse of a man who desperately craved privacy. Like "The Bridge," which documented suicide victims plunging to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s like watching a train wreck in agonizingly slow motion. Even casual observers know this story ends in tragedy, making it all the more paoignant when Cobain candidly addresses his drug habit.
"I need to go off on a little anti-drug tirade to put things in better perspective," he says almost wistfully. "If I’d have kept doing drugs, I would have lost everything." And, in the end, he did.
CREDITS Kurt Cobain: About a Son
Directed by AJ Schnack
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes