Kurt Cobain: About a Son Reviews
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
What I believe really works about this film is that it is a great research piece. If you are familiar with Kurt Cobain and his music, but are looking to go deeper, you should probably start with this film. What also works is the use of the interviews to actively display Kurt's personal life. And it is quite hard to tell if they had cut out any pieces of the interview, since there is so much. Not only that, but it is shown in great detail. With these two pieces of praise in mind, I must also demonstrate the flaws of such a film. One of which was some of the footage that was used in the film. While there is a lot of footage that does indeed work, you still notice that at the same time, the whole film is easy to just listen to, rather than watch. That is not saying that the film itself is bad, it is stating that it could have been released in a different format. Maybe even as a CD. The footage is still nice-looking. While I have heard some complaints that others should have been interviewed, I could simply state that there are so many other Nirvana films with interviews of anyone but Kurt Cobain. And this seems very much like a redemption of that.
If you are a die-hard fan of Nirvana, you should check this out. If you are doing some sort of research project, this could work for you. Just... you know, don't bother to visually watch it you don't want or have to.