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Kurt Cobain About a Son (2006)

tomatometer

74

Average Rating: 6.7/10
Reviews Counted: 42
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 11

With a constant voiceover of his own words, About A Son is a deeply personal look into Cobain's life that is sure to please his many fans.

67

Average Rating: 6.2/10
Critic Reviews: 15
Fresh: 10 | Rotten: 5

With a constant voiceover of his own words, About A Son is a deeply personal look into Cobain's life that is sure to please his many fans.

audience

77

liked it
Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 3,236

My Rating

Movie Info

Filmmaker A.J. Schnack draws from over 25 hours of audio-taped interviews to offer an intimate meditation on the life of the man who changed the face of rock & roll in the 1990s in this film that uses materials originally gathered for music journalist Michael Azerrad's book Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. From his early childhood to his discovery of music and his troubled attempts to make sense of his skyrocketing fame as a member of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain recounts his life in a series of

Feb 19, 2008

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All Critics (44) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (31) | Rotten (11) | DVD (1)

Only loosely connected to the story, the visuals quickly grow monotonous.

January 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The ending section, where Schnack and Azerrad let Cobain ramble philosophically about life and music, is a muddled intellectual mess.

November 30, 2007 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Kurt Cobain About a Son is a lovely piece of filmmaking, a gripping, minimalist marriage of sound and image.

November 2, 2007 Full Review Source: Boston Globe
Boston Globe
Top Critic IconTop Critic

As important for what it reveals about a seminal and grievously misunderstood artist as for how it rejuvenates a moribund documentary form.

October 25, 2007 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Less a movie than an illustrated audiotape, Kurt Cobain: About a Son is nonetheless fascinating for what it reveals of its subject,

October 19, 2007 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This isn't so much a movie documentary as it is an audio book with visuals.

October 12, 2007 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The images combine with Cobain's voiceover for a cumulative effect that seeps into the film rather than exploding onto it.

April 28, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

Filmmaker AJ Schnack uses 25-hours of previously unheard audio interviews with Cobain as voice over for footage of Cobain haunts. The images are mesmerizing, but Cobain never appears on screen, and he is missed.

June 6, 2010 Full Review Source: About.com
About.com

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.

April 9, 2008 | Comment (1)
San Francisco Examiner

AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain: About a Son is as gripping and revealing as Gus Van Sant's Last Days was hollow and pointless.

March 1, 2008 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

Shaped from Cobain's own words, the film tells his story with care, in inventive style and without phony reverence or pretentious pronouncements.

February 22, 2008
Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)

Most of the material has never been made public before, so the movie is a must-see for Cobain fans. Even for non-fans, it is quite an astonishing document. Up to a point.

January 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Jam! Movies
Jam! Movies

Allows the fans that the legendary musician will keep gathering for decades to come a brief look inside Cobain's troubled mind, and it does so in a refreshingly bold and innovative way.

January 11, 2008 Full Review Source: The Deadbolt
The Deadbolt

A fascinating plunge into one man's thicket of contradictions.

January 10, 2008 Full Review Source: Metromix.com
Metromix.com

There is much to fault in this tedious exercise in pseudo-hipster cool masquerading as, well, what exactly?

January 4, 2008
San Diego Union-Tribune

Startlingly de-mythologizing at first, then just plain poignant . . . it's fascinating to reconcile Cobain's slacker howl over chipping guitar chords with a sodden Pacific Northwest of logging trucks and fishing boats.

December 6, 2007
Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)

Many of the images aren't particularly compelling and neither, frankly, are Cobain's comments, which range from dull anti-press diatribes to familiar stories about the musical influence of his Aunt Mary to inarticulate blather.

November 30, 2007 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

It's easy to get lost in his words, especially if you're a fan. I ended up enjoying the film overall, even if I had to wonder whether Cobain himself would have approved of a film like this.

November 29, 2007 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Cobain narrates the tale of his all-too-short life, musing on his successes, loves, letdowns, motivations and depression.

November 29, 2007 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

The unique style of the film makes it a music and art house fan's must and, if you are a fan of Kurt Cobain, yours too.

October 28, 2007 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

...essential viewing for any real fan of the man and his music and an artfully unique take on the musical biographical documentary genre.

October 27, 2007 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

Audience Reviews for Kurt Cobain About a Son


You want a part of me
Well, I'm not selling cheap
No, I'm not selling cheap*


Between December 1992 and March 1993, the music journalist Michael Azerrad interviewed Kurt Cobain for his book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, published by Doubleday. Almost all the 25 hours of audio taped interviews took place between midnight and dawn at Kurtīs house in Seattle, Washington. One year after the last of these interviews, Kurt committed suicide. Years later, Azerrad meets the director AJ Schnack and the idea of the movie comes in.

Shot in the three cities where Kurt lived, Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle, and not featuring any Nirvana song or image of him until the very end, Kurt Cobain About a Son is something between a documentary and an (auto)biography where we see an honest (self)portrait of Kurt. At least, as honest as it can be. The use of random images and other music artists works when trying to give importance to what Kurt is saying, when trying to show the person instead of the icon. Gus Van Santīs Last Days, that focus on the icon (Kurtīs sun glasses, wearing a dress, etc) and use the silence to try to get into Kurtīs mind/world, works, but as a portrait of the character as we know it.

Childhood, fatherīs absence, adolescence, art, musical identity, depression, fame, life. It is an interesting view on the construction of a real character and on trying to discover the real person. Kurt wanted to be famous, but didnīt expect to become a "fucking cartoon character".


People do not deserve to know about my life private now. (...) The thing that I've always, that I've never understood, is the classic reaction to someone who complains that's in the limelight is like "well, you know, you made your bed, now you have to sleep in it. That's what everyone expects. You're public domain now, and everyone has the right to know everything about you." (...) I donīt agree with people saying: "everyone has a right to know." I have the right to change that perception. I have the right to change peopleīs way of thinking of celebrities. It should be changed. It should be different. They should be treated as human beings and respected (in their private issues).


*Celebrity Skin, by Hole. In the movie Kurt talks a lot about fame and its consequences, about the pressure over him and Courtney Love.


updated: I left the movie playing while working on other things. I prefer to listen to it than watching it. It was like Kurt was in my room, talking directly with me.




May 11, 2012
5oclockcoffee

Super Reviewer

Great documentary. Got to know the man personally.
March 25, 2012
Adriel Lim

Super Reviewer

This is not to be mistaken for that one film by the Weitz brothers, as it is "About a[u]n Angry[/u] Boy", even though I think it would be decent casting to get Nicholas Hoult as Kurt Cobain (He was a young Hank "Beast" McCoy, so I think he'll have no trouble with a prosthetic chin dimple). Hey, it's not like I was going to say Hugh Grant should play Cobain, because, well, first off, Grant is too old to play some guy who made it to the 27 Club, and plus, Cobain's music is tediously obnoxious enough without him breaking to stutter, "My Generation" style. Yeah, Kurt, your generation pretty much ruined rock, so I'd rather not talk about it, yet you, by all means, can discuss it, as it sure makes for a decent documentary, even if it does make for awful music. No, seriously, people, by saying that Kurt Cobain himself is free to discuss his generation, I mean it, as this film features a narration... "from beyond the grave"! Man, first it's Tupac and now it's Kurt Cobain; why can't we get posthumous material from people who actually recorded listenable music? Thank goodness Cobain is just talking in this film, even if he does sound like the dull depressed, drug-pumped bum that he exclusively was. No, I'm kidding, he was a decent, if deeply disturbed visual artist, but outside of that, I'm not saying that I'm glad he's dead, I'm just saying that I'm glad that I don't have to deal with his music anymore, even if his story is pretty interesting, as this documentary will tell, though not without hitting some bumps along the way.

The documentary is surprisingly very experimental, so much so that it is primarily driven by newly shot, symbolic imagery and offers very, very little, if any archived footage, thus, outside of the final couple of pay-off-esque images, you do not catch a single glimpse of Kurt Cobain, and sure, the imagery is effective enough, and Cobain's narration is heartfelt enough, for you to feel a great deal of intimacy with the focus of this artistic documentary, but you can feel only so much for a faceless voice. The film works better as a documentary told through a footageless interview than others would have, and that's especially impressive when you consider that this film doesn't even give you the common courtesy of archived footage, yet resonance goes limited by a lack of a visual presentation of Cobain, as surely as material goes limited by the specificity of the documentary's focus. I should perhaps emphasize that this film, in spite of its being driven by an interview that was conducted for "Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana", - a book, not so much about Cobain, but about Cobain's and his peers' efforts - is almost entirely focused upon Cobain's personal life, rather than his professional career, and that, alone, cuts huge chunks out of Cobain's story, whose presentation in this film still stands to take more time to flesh out what information is given. It's hard not to feel as though there's a touch too much of Cobain's story missing, and if you have plenty of time to think about it, because there are ironically moments in which the film upon material for too long, extensively mediating upon excess information, if not filler, for extended periods of time that, after a while, get to be repetitious and, by extension, detrimental to the momentum of the film, resulting in slow-downs that bland things up a bit and disengage, or at least exacerbate the aimlessness that this film never fully washes away. The interview that drives this film was, of course, simply Cobain showcasing points of interest in his life, unaware that the recording would go on to be the foundation upon which a bona fide narrative was built, and sure enough, the film's sense of direction isn't as clear as it probably should be, meandering along with limited narrative structure, and leaving your investment to gradually slip, until true reward value is finally lost. Sure, the film borders on more than just decent, as it is so effective in many ways, but natural shortcomings and certain other questionable aspects dilute a sense of momentum in this documentary that also stands to be more insightful as the reflection on a figure who did things I am anything but terribly appreciative of, but still had an interesting story that deserves better than this slightly underwhelming delivery. In spite of this, the film is well-done enough to earn your investment through and through, maybe not always to where you feel truly rewarding, but certainly to where you'd be hard pressed to not be entertained, even by, of all things, the musical touches, particularly the original ones.

Music is constant throughout the film, and when they're not classic tunes, they're original compositions by Steve Fisk and Ben Gibbard, whose score occasionally adopts a somewhat more controlled, but still rather questionable overstylization that plagued the documentary's focus' "music", yet is generally excellent, with a dynamic, refreshing and all around mostly tasteful marriage of rock style and neo-classical artistry that both entertains and helps in defining the documentary's versatile tone in a colorful fashion that goes matched by the color within most of the unoriginal musical touches. On a personal level, my primary concern with this film was that I would be subjected to music by Kurt Cobain himself, whose overblown, monotonously noisy and all around repulsively, soullessly misguided efforts were unique in the worst kind of way, and ended up being some of the most negatively influential challenges to tolerance of modern music, but, due to its commitment to meditating upon the personal life of Cobain over the professional one, this film is thankfully cleansed of products by Nirvana and, of course, the much less known and appropriately named Fecal Matter, and showcases Cobain's musical influences, such as, of course, some questionable ditties, but mostly classic tunes that entertain by their own right, while supplementing immersion value by giving you a better understanding of the diverse, if hit-or-miss tastes of Cobain, whose depths are further reflected by the film's more visual stylistic choices. Again, the film, as an experimental documentary, is more driven by visual style than footage, and such a unique storytelling method doesn't always work, but in a lot of ways, it breathes plenty of life into this study on Cobain's life, whether when its delivering on such lively stylistic moves as clever editing and the occasional nifty animated sequences, or providing symbolic imagery that cinematographer Wyatt Troll shoots remarkably well, with theatrical definition, as well as cinematic framing that is still kept tight enough for you to get an intimate feel for the subtle thematic depth of the visuals. As a uniquely stylish art piece of an experimental documentary, when the film isn't delivering on good tunes, it's, well, delivering on not so good tunes, but mostly on fine visuals that breathe some life into this study on the life and times of an icon, yet cannot compliment the effectiveness of this documentary's storytelling without first being accompanied by a narrative that is reasonably engaging on its own. As I said earlier, the film's focusing strictly on the personal life of Cobain limits material, and what material there is often stands to be more extensively meditated upon, but on the whole, there's still plenty of engaging information delivered in this fascinating study on Cobain's life, and such intrigue is typically augmented by AJ Schnack's direction, which stands to grace this narrative with a more focused structure, yet establishes a theatrically layered atmosphere that is consistently entertaining, and has those moments of true poignancy that leave you feeling the human depths of a man as flawed and tragic as Cobain. Schnack's inspiration behind directorial storytelling is palpable, sometimes to the point of establishing overambition that only emphasizes shortcomings, but generally to the point of giving you a fair sense of intimacy with Cobain that is, of course, most reinforced by Cobain himself, because even though Cobain's slow speaking voice blands things up a touch at times, and should be backed by more images of a face to go with the voice, it's impossible to fully ignore the down-to-earth humanity within Cobain, whose heartfelt telling of his own story immerses you in a highly unique way. Yeah, I still hate Cobain's music with every fiber of my being, and would still consider him one of the worst things to happen to modern music, but when it comes to the humanity through all of the misguided "artistry", sure, I have plenty more appreciation for Cobain after watching this poignant study on his rich and troubled life, which stands to say more, and do so in a more tight and focused fashion, but has enough style, depth and immersion value to keep you going.

When the scent of teen spirit finally dies down, this potentially rewarding documentary takes too many blows from anything as relatively light as a lack of a face to go with the narrating voice that would have more power as more than just audio, to such bigger issues as limited areas in information delivery, repetitiously overdrawn moments and aimlessness for the final product to fully escape underwhelmingness, but through a generally fine score and soundtrack, an effectively stylish and well-shot visual style, an adequate degree of interesting informativeness, lively, when not poignant directorial storytelling, and heartfelt narration by the late subject of the documentary himself, "Kurt Cobain: About a Son" stands as an entertaining, if flawed experimental meditation upon the life and times of an icon, tragic figure and, most of all, man.

2.75/5 - Decent
June 19, 2013
Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

This is more than a film. The uncompromising honesty and profound artistry of Cobain's words cut right to the core of me. This is an absolute must-see for all true fans of Nirvana, and anyone interested in Kurt Cobain as a man and a musician.
June 8, 2008
michaelcorleone

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Kurt Cobain: About a Son (DE)
  • Kurt Cobain: About a Son (UK)
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