This is the other Kurt Cobain documentary, the one released in 2007 and now being ignored in the wake of the so-called “authorized” doc, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. For my money, About a Son (available for online streaming via iTunes) is the far superior film. Directed by AJ Schnack, the entire movie rests on audio interviews with Cobain recorded by journalist Michael Azerrad for his book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, and supported by a vivid tapestry of iconic, Northwest imagery.
From Aberdeen to Olympia to Seattle, Schnack and his cinematographer Wyatt Troll weave together gorgeous visuals and Cobain’s intensely intimate recollections of his childhood and rise to unexpected fame to craft a poetic, cinematic essay, an impressionistic version of Cobain’s too-short life that is both exhilarating and heartbreaking.
Schnack was operating without access to Cobain’s journals, home movies or music. The songs on the soundtrack are by the bands that influenced Kurt, and they provide more insight than the repeated spins of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in Montage of Heck. The director also avoided interviews, press clippings or photographs. A brief series of Cobain pics at the very end is the only time we see him.
Schnack turns these limitations into a powerful expression of place: the fecund isolation at the perpetually damp bottom end of the Olympic Peninsula which fueled Cobain’s outsider philosophies; the tantalizing promise of a future he saw in the bustling college town of Olympia; and the starry-eyed dreams of true rock-n-roll success he hoped to attain in Seattle.
Edited with dizzying virtuosity, overflowing with specific, familiar locations and spliced tastefully together with a spare use of Etch-a-Sketch animations, About a Son is not only the most revealing glimpse we’re ever likely to get into Cobain’s life and art, but perhaps the best movie ever filmed in the Pacific Northwest.