Nirvana put out some of the most exciting and influential music of the past quarter-century, yet these sounds are nowhere to be heard in Kurt Cobain: About a Son. According to the documentary's production materials, director AJ Schnack had been planning to use a single Nirvana tune near the film's conclusion but decided against it because the group's music was too "powerful and triumphant" to complement a section about "mourning" an artistic choice that's symbolic of the fascinating yet frustrating film as a whole.
Rather than quiz those Cobain left behind when he committed suicide in 1994, Schnack tells his tale using excerpts from interviews with the singer/guitarist conducted in 1992 and 1993 by journalist Michael Azerrad for the book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. These candid, if generally dour, observations are then paired with imagery shot in Washington State locales where Cobain lived, much of it either slowed down or sped up, Koyaanisqatsi-style. Schnack maintains the stylistic integrity of this concept admirably, turning the film into a muted but very personal tone poem. Nonetheless, many of the juxtapositions feel either facile or heavy-handed: Take, for instance, the sequence in which Cobain praises punk rock as the camera lingers on items found in a janitor's closet. And the work underplays its subject's artistry the reason he's still so revered a decade-plus after his death.