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If you were hoping for a second chance to crawl inside the mind of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, this is it, but the experience may not be quite what you expected it to be. As a documentary, “About a Son” is about as rewarding as it is frustrating. On one hand, it offers unparalleled access to Cobain’s thoughts, since it is compiled exclusively from interview tapes. On the other hand, the video footage plays like a Travel Channel documentary for the State of Washington. You get to hear the contradictory nature of Cobain as he discusses points of inspiration and frustration, but there is virtually none of Nirvana’s music to support his commentary. For the first hour, you don’t even get to see Cobain’s face, not even in photos. Instead, the film juxtaposes scenic shots of Washington with seemingly random faces from the area, as an attempt at capturing Cobain’s environment.
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“About a Son” compiles the psychological profile of a happy kid sliding into neurosis, depression and anti-social behavior. Cobain is forthcoming, but his own self-doubt and suspicious nature forces the viewer to question the degree of his honesty. His take on his own victimization is self-evident, but his view on his own self-perceived shortcomings and his drug use are dependent on his ability to be honest with himself. He claims that chronic digestive pain inspired thoughts of suicide, but later says “I hadn’t had any stomach pain when I started doing drugs.” Is that the truth, or is it a rationalization? The film doesn’t answer the question so much as it presents the contradiction for the viewer’s own interpretation. Ultimately, “About a Son” is a psychological study consisting of self-analytical interviews juxtaposed over third-party footage. Does it succeed? That depends entirely on your ability to suspend your own frustration.
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