Saturday Night At The Movies

SIFF-ting Through Celluloid-Part 2

By Dennis Hartley

The 2007 Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so I am continuing my series sharing some of this year’s highlights with you.

This week, we’ll take a look at the new rock doc “Kurt Cobain: About a Son”, directed by AJ Schnack (whose previous work includes “Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns).

It’s nearly impossible to be a pop culture aficionado living here in Seattle and not be reminded of Cobain’s profound impact on the music world. Every April, around the anniversary of his death, wreaths of flowers and hand taped notes begin to appear on a lone bench in a tiny public park sandwiched between the lakefront mansions I pass on my way to work every morning. Inevitably, I will see small groups of young people with multi-colored hair and torn jeans, making their pilgrimage and holding vigil around this makeshift shrine, located a block or two from the home where he took his own life.

Needless to say, this has certainly been a highly anticipated film here in the Emerald City (ironically, it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall; I was surprised that the director, who attended the Seattle screening, wasn’t called to task for this slight by one of the numerous flannel-wearing diehards in the audience).

“About a Son” is a reflective and uniquely impressionistic portrait of Cobain’s short life. There are none of the usual talking head interviews or performance clips here; in fact there is nary a photo image of Cobain or Nirvana displayed until a good hour into the documentary. Nonetheless, Schnack is holding an ace; he was given access to a series of surprisingly frank and intimate audio interviews that Cobain recorded at his Seattle home circa 1992-1993. He marries up Cobain’s childhood and teenage recollections with beautifully shot footage of his hometown of Aberdeen and its Washington logging country environs. As Cobain’s self-narrated life story moves to Olympia, then inevitably to Seattle, Schnack’s POV travelogue follows right along. The combination of Cobain’s narrative voice with the visuals has an eerie effect; you begin to feel that you are inside Cobain’s temporal memories-kicking aimlessly around the depressing cultural vacuum of a blue collar logging town, walking the halls of his high school, sleeping under a railroad bridge, sitting on a mattress on a crash pad floor and practicing guitar for hours on end.

The film is almost an antithesis to Nick Broomfield’s notorious and comparatively sensationalistic documentary “Kurt and Courtney”. Whereas Broomfield set out with a backhoe to dig up as much dirt as quickly as possible in attempting to uncover Cobain’s story, Schnack opts for a more carefully controlled excavation, gently brushing the dirt aside in order to expose the real artifact. And again, in spite of the relative dearth of actual visual images of its subject, “About a Son” succeeds in giving us a thoroughly intimate portrait of the artist. I also should give a nod to the fantastic soundtrack (although Nirvana themselves are conspicuously MIA). The film opens wide in August.

Feelin’ Grungy: Gus van Sant's Last Days,Kurt and Courtney,Hype! , Singles, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, Meeting People Is Easy, Hard Core Logo, Nowhere.

Punky Rootsters: End of the Century - The Story of the Ramones,New York Doll , SLC Punk, Repo Man , The Decline of Western Civilization, American Hardcore, Hated, Punk - Attitude, X (The Band) - The Unheard Music, Instrument - Ten Years with the Band Fugazi, Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, The Filth and the Fury - A Sex Pistols Film,Sid & Nancy, Rude Boy, Radio On, Dogs in Space, Breaking Glass, Starstruck , Smithereens, ,Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous StainsLiquid Sky, Punk Rock Movie.