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It's startling to hear Kurt Cobain speak in "About a Son," a pseudo-documentary about the late rock star that blends cinematography inspired by his life with interview recordings taken about a year before his death. A beloved figure in the history of pop, he sounds surprisingly normal, especially as he talks about how it felt to grow up in his small hometown of Aberdeen, Wash.
The interviews, taken from footage journalist Michael Azerrad used for his book "Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana," mostly recount Cobain's life from early childhood in Aberdeen to his teenage years and early 20s, when he left for Olympia and then Seattle, in the process forming Nirvana and becoming world-famous.
Sometimes we hear Azerrad respond or inquire for clarification, but mostly the soundtrack is Cobain providing an intimate portrait of his life and thoughts. There's no actual footage of the singer or recordings of his music, however; only scenes reflecting his commentary, such as the log mill where his dad worked and snippets of the music that inspired him.
"About a Son" is divided into three parts, corresponding to the three cities in Washington that Cobain called home. "Aberdeen" is the strongest segment, with such recollections as the tedious hours he spent bored in dad's dingy office while his father roamed the mill counting logs, or the mutual hatred between Cobain and the "normal" people who filled the local schools and shopping centers.
One of the things the film shows so well, though perhaps unintentionally, is Cobain's genius. Though his ideas sometimes sound quite ordinary on their own -- like the commonplace teenage feelings of alienation and ambition they only remind us how extraordinarily he transposed them to music. (NR)