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Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana before his untimely death, is often
credited by music experts as being one of the most influential
musicians of his time. A claim that careful analysis demonstrates to
have much credence. Yet he seemed an unremarkable individual. Physical
and mental illness. Dropping out of high school. Habitual drug-user.
Where did he find the insights that made him such an inspiration to
other artists? Making a famous rock-star biopic must be a temptation to
fill it with crowd-pleasing footage of their songs. Then link it with
candid shots to show the 'real' person. Thankfully, Schnack has steered
an alternative course with great integrity in his pursuit for truth. He
has looked at how the formative years made the man. The result is not a
pat answer underlined with some snappy lyrics. It is a convincing and
inspiring portrait of a man who was not easy to know.
Twenty five hours of unreleased interviews provide a voice-over for the film. We focus on the period from childhood to when Nirvana attain recognition. These formative years, together with Cobain's own words, give us a feeling for how his music developed. More importantly, they show the pressures on his character. In almost a crucible of personal hell (in spite of the bravado in what he says), Kurt Cobain forged a telling sincerity of expression. That expression of someone who has little choice.
Cobain acknowledges many influences, including Led Zepplin, Kiss, AC/DC and the Cars, as well as more obscure bands. But his key experiment was based on mixing seemingly irreconcilable genres. "How successful do you think a band could be if they mixed really heavy Black Sabbath with the Beatles?" he asks.
Some bands had approached elements of this already. Zepplin used strident contrasting sections: gentle harmonies would alternate with heavy metal sections. Nirvana invoked not just musical contrasts but extreme disparities of mood and lyrics. Many of their songs flip in a split second from gentle, sensitive, caring sing-along-with-your-mum words - to an extreme violence of sound and imagery. "Come as you are, as a friend," takes on a horrific edge in subsequent verses. The shock value has been duplicated since (usually in a less extreme way) in the structure of music and lyrics by many rock bands, and even seems to filter down to pop groups such as Rihanna and Morningwood.
We could equally wonder if it was just part of a general music drift. But the film's insights help even an untrained ear to analyse the trends and Nirvana's role in them.
Cobain's life gave him plenty to draw on. Isolated, homeless (in the middle of winter), suffering from ADD and later manic-depression, in his dark night of the soul we can see that his love of music was his only interest. Living in a backwater of Seattle, the only possessions he valued were his artistic nature and the guitar that offered a possibility of expression.
There is nothing manufactured about the sound of Nirvana. Its heartfelt honesty perhaps helped to propel the group to wider audiences at a time when indie bands were being methodically sidelined by an avaricious industry. In reaching a wider public, Nirvana also helped to show it was still possible for an unknown band to break through the seemingly invincible wall that dictated what was acceptable.
The film's cinematography, still and moving images of the places and sorts of people that populated Cobain's early life, cleverly and almost imperceptibly adds flesh to the raw bones. The bleak Aberdeen backwater. Sleeping under bridges. Spending time in libraries to keep warm. Eventually meeting middle-class youngsters who populate an unsettlingly different world. All through this, the idea for him of simply making enough money to survive was "awesome." Cobain is maybe an extreme example of the double-edged angst felt by many young people. "I was such a nihilistic jerk half the time," he says. "I'm so f*cking sarcastic at times then at other times I'm so vulnerable and so sincere, and that's pretty much how every song comes out - it's a mixture of both of them and that's pretty much how most people my age are they're sarcastic one minute then caring the next." Since the nihilism pervades all of the interviews except where he speaks of music, it is reasonable to believe, against his claims, that he didn't change much. "I'm p*ssed off about everything in general and so all these songs are pretty much about my battle with things that p*ss me off."
The words are inelegant and he (technically) contradicts himself on occasion. But the general sense comes through. It is one of the special gifts of cinema to be able to show the bigger picture by putting words in different settings, juxtaposing them with images, to give meanings that could otherwise be missed.
Perhaps Cobain is at his most articulate when talking about privacy and the intrusion of the paparazzi. If people believe they have a 'right' to know everything about a celebrity's life, "Then I have a right to try and change that view," he says.
Cobain was a tragic character who found happiness in so little and yet affected his artistic field greatly. Schnack's portrait will not satisfy fans that want a pop video of Nirvana songs. It doesn't feature a single one (even though it will increase subsequent enjoyment and appreciation of their music.) Neither will it satisfy the gore-hounds who want to endlessly debate whether his death was suicide or not. Yet somewhere in the misery of Cobain's life was born a spark of creative fire that was far more important. It is hard to imagine how this film could have been less commercial or more true to the quest for that flame.
I attended a screening of -Kurt Cobain, About A Son at the Seattle International Film Festival. As you can expect with a hometown audience, the audience was ready to fall in love with this film going in. For the most part, the film did not disappoint. The most powerful aspect of the film is the fact that we hear Kurt Cobain's voice speaking his own words, a far better idea than the standard documentary format that features "experts" and fans talking about what made a person great. In the interviews, Cobain is happy, depressed, funny, bitter, excited, exhausted, gracious, resentful, kind, sarcastic ... but always engaging and interesting. It was also powerful to see the images of the towns in which Cobain lived -- Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle -- as he talked about different phases of his life. I agree with an earlier poster's comment that saving actual images of Cobain and Nirvana until the end really worked. After all, it is Cobain's voice that is his greatest legacy, and by filling our eyes with images of industrial workers, train trestles, run-down houses, liquor stores, street corners, and so on, the film reminds the viewer that Cobain was a man, first and foremost, and an icon later. And the soundtrack is AWESOME! Kurt talks a great deal about bands that influenced him as he grew up and started writing songs, and many of these artists were kind enough to grant permission to the film-makers to use their music for free. I hope that a soundtrack album is released at some point. My only complaint was the film-makers' choice to include images of places, buildings, and scenes (especially in Seattle) that were not around when Cobain was alive. How much did the Mariners' baseball stadium (which opened in 1999) "shape" the person who became Kurt Cobain, and I somehow doubt that Cobain spent any time at Starbucks. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the film to anyone who loves Nirvana or is fascinated by the man.
This is the official story. I don't think many people realise that that
a lot of the stuff written about Kurt and Nirvana was either
sensationalised, or just completely made up. This story though is one
of the very few true stories. It is based on Michael Azerrad's book,
"Come As You Are", which was official and was made with the help of the
band, and their friend's and families.
This movie is made WITH the actual discussions of Kurt with Michael. So the entire movie is basically just Kurt talking, and the movie makers then just added pictures to what Kurt was talking about.
Sometimes it's a photograph or a painting, but a lot of the time it is actual footage of the people and places in this story, and it makes it so much easier to visualise what Kurt is talking about, when it presented so well for you like that.
If you have read the book, this is like a watered down version of that, but it is still worth a watch because you are hearing it from Kurt himself, and you are hearing the quotes in their original form. For the book, some of the quotes were taken apart and put in different stages in the story to make it fit together properly. So here it is in it's raw form which is interesting. And there are a few things that didn't make the book.
I really liked the visual aspect though. Some said it should have just been an audio CD, well I completely disagree, (as do other people). The pictures visualise everything for you, so you get the full emotional experience. Your mind doesn't have to wander around, trying to think about what Kurt is saying. The pictures are already here for you, so it gives you time to think about what Kurt is actually saying. It also shows you a lot of things that are in the story. The actual places Kurt lived and hung out etc. Hearing him talking and seeing the footage of this stuff just seemed to fit together perfectly, and it surprises me that some people didn't appreciate that.
Seeing Olympia, Aberdeen, and Montesano etc.. it helps show the story that is being told.
Basically this gets two thumbs up from me. It's a must watch for a Nirvana / Kurt fan, and probably an interesting watch for people who aren't even fans.
My only notes to you would be that it is pretty sad, and also it a VERY thinned out version of what you get from the book, so if you want more, you really should get the book too.
It's so delightfully refreshing watching these types of "documentary"
films. The film is not like many others I have seen as it is highly
original and experimental. There is nothing to spoil in this piece
really. It's just a really relaxing experience throughout.
It sounds a long time of just simply listening to audiotapes of Kurt Cobain - and it actually is. I disagree when I hear that only people who like Nirvana/Kurt Cobain would enjoy and appreciate the film. For people who really appreciate film language, it is a film to watch too. I have seen it twice now and it does amaze me that I don't get bored. The mild soundtrack in the background along with pictures and video clips makes it a journey while you listen. Basically all of the clips you see are merged together with what he is saying to give a sense of atmosphere and relevance. ( There is no clips of Kurt Cobain or Nirvana. Nor is there any songs. The only small clips of Kurt are at the very end) Without spoiling (even if that's not really possible), there is one particular clip where there is a man walking in the background which is supposed to be Kurt. Therefore it's also a documentary you need to pay attention to, just like any other film.
But if you actually are interested to see this piece because you are a Kurt Cobain fan, you really should have a look. It's probably the film which made me really assured that Kurt Cobain was a true role model. You can read as much about him as you want, but the interviews which this film provides is truly excellent.
It will definitely not suit everyone, but for me it is one of the best crafted documentaries I have ever seen.
A quiet, slow, but haunting meditation on the late rock hero may be an
acquired taste for pre-existing fans, but ultimately ends up being a
haunting character study regardless. Why this documentary really sticks
out is in it's approach. Guided merely by audio clips of one of
Cobain's last, and most in-depth interviews, the director shows long
and lingering images of his surroundings while we listen to the
troubled, quite misperceived star vent his frustrations with celebrity
and recall his modest upbringings.
While slightly overlong with silent pauses in between statements, About A Boy is unique, intimate, and ultimately extremely satisfying in distilling some of the myths surrounding this icon and helping to re-humanize him again by giving us the visual counterparts to Cobain's world, without the hype.
Cinematic Documentary has blossomed the last 10 years as more and more
artists find reality interesting enough to make them stay away from
"creating a world of their own", a.k.a. fiction. It was matter of time
before the musical documentary would take the lead on this new interest
in this genre of film-making -just like on TV before.
In those last years countless films have been released on anything that has to do with music -any kind of music. The most interesting of them weren't those about my (or your) favorite artists, but rather the ones that had a real cinematic approach on the way each was presenting the story. Moreover, the best of them were/are those that could be something more than just a "fairy-tale of drugs and self-destruction" or a "scientific musical analysis".
"About a Son" manages to pass this "test". Interested or not in Kurt Cobain, you cant ignore its cinematography; and that alone will be enough for you to sit and watch the film. But beyond this, the structure of the movie and director's subtle comments on Cobain's words are what make this a great documentary.
This is as close and personal you'll ever get to Kurt Cobain on film. Don't miss it.
Utilizing Michael Azerrad's 1992-1993 audio interviews with now-deceased grunge rocker Kurt Cobain as a springboard, director AJ Schnack has fashioned an impressionistic and absorbing, if thinly-derived, account of a reluctant celebrity, one who enjoyed the hungry years much more so than the sudden fame. Born in Abderdeen, Washington, Cobain recounts a carefree childhood up until his parents were divorced around the age of seven (something he found unacceptable); diagnosed with scoliosis in the eighth grade, and quickly turning to marijuana to ease both his spinal and stomach pain, Cobain freely admits he began to exhibit schizophrenic behavior and compulsive disorders. He acknowledges he was offered grants after high school to attend art school (for artwork that we never see) but instead wanted to focus on his music, which got him kicked out of the house. The streets (and friends' couches) seem a bizarre existence for an exceptionally gifted teenager, but Cobain found the independence freeing and fun ("I was being a bachelor!" he says). While Cobain is talking, Schnack's camera roams the streets of Aberdeen, nearby Montesano (where Cobain also briefly lived), Olympia, and finally Seattle, where true success found the icon at last. What appears to be the typical hard-luck road to stardom is shrugged off by Cobain, who always enjoyed the struggle more than the success. The film is a gamble--at times interesting, funny, irritating, and boring--but Kurt Cobain's words speak for themselves, and even non-fans might be intrigued by his unimaginable climb up from nowhere. **1/2 from ****
I just saw this at the Toronto Film Festival and I wasn't impressed.
While I appreciate the audio interviews captured within this film, I question why a movie was made. I would have enjoyed the film as much if listened to on the way home while I was in traffic. It should have been a CD release, not a film.
The film revolves around some audio recordings that were compiled from a series of late night interviews. There were very intimate details described by Cobain, including how he did care about what people thought about him (as opposed to what most of his friends suggested), and that he wanted to write some pop songs for their albums, but Sub Pop forced them into keeping the albums underground. Some may already be aware of these facts, but I enjoyed learning of them for the first time. The tone in which Cobain spoke felt genuine, and the pacing of the interviews was perfect. These interviews deserve to be heard by any fan of Cobain's, or Nirvana. They were a great listen.
The problem with this film is there isn't a single video clip or photo of Cobain, his family, or Nirvana until the last 30 seconds of the movie. The entire film involves a series of related images that play based on the interviews. An example would be when speaking on his father's job, they show footage of men working at a lumber yard. When Cobain spoke on Seattle, they'd show images of Seattle Record stores, streets and highways. They even had real time images being drawn in the form of artsy cartoons (tree's and grass swaying) during some of the vocals. It was like watching on LONG Fruitopia commercial combined with a film strip about Washington. Unfortunately it also seemed like they had problems clearing for use in this movie.
I understand what the director attempted with the images, but it failed in my eyes. It's almost like they brainstormed how they could generate the most revenue from the interviews, as opposed to having a vision upon hearing them. It feels forced, and I don't need to see this again. Literally. If I ever end up with a copy of the DVD I'll either record the audio to CD, or listen to it with the TV off.
This is actually a pretty touchy and immersive tape interview with Kurt
Cobain. From where he comes from, what he dealt with while growing up,
where his passion for music started. His involvement with his bandmates
and how they got to where they got while dealing with personal issues.
And his inner demons and what he is passionate about and etc. It's a
fascinating and yet sad coverage of Kurt Cobain from his interviews. I
just think instead of random pictures and video clips, it could have
had animation and digital animation with Kurt Cobain. If your a fan of
Nirvana or Kurt Cobain, this film is worth checking out. Just about
everything when it comes to the interviews has been edited almost
perfectly in a congruent manner. The main gripe I have about this
movie, is that you will probably be better off listening to a CD of
this instead of watching a movie of the interview.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the Kurt Cobain movie that is told by Kurt - his thoughts, his feelings, his words. There actually is no Courtney love involvement at all. Now, because this one is actually unauthorized, it doesn't have any Nirvana songs, or images of Kurt and all the fancy stuff that Montage of Heck has, but this is Kurt Cobain, stripped down, raw and noncommercial. This is the Kurt Cobain documentary that he would have approved of. Montage of Heck is crap in comparison. Everything that they hyped up Montage of Heck to be, is what this film actually delivers as far as content from the man himself. His words. He talks candidly and is open. The images in this film are the images of the Pacific Northwest. The images that Kurt saw on a daily basis in his life. This is a film that sounds like a friend talking. Just talking. No agenda. Just talking. Being honest and real.
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