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“Kurt Cobain About a Son”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: AJ Schnack’s “Kurt Cobain About a Son,” Balcony Releasing, 2007]

Though Kurt Cobain is (obviously) the subject and star of this documentary, he does not appear on screen at all until the very end of the film’s 90-minute running time. Instead, “About a Son” is a compilation of the highlights of some 25 hours of never-before-heard audio interviews with Cobain, set against a collection of images of the Pacific Northwest where Cobain grew up, lived and worked. The result is interesting and, at times, a little unnerving, like taking a walk down the haunted streets of Seattle, WA while the ghost of Kurt Cobain whispers in your ear.

The most famous musician of his generation guides us through his unhappy upbringing, his unhappy formative years and his unhappy time as one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Very little of what Cobain has to say about anything is positive; he’s sort of a far less funny (and far less Jewish) Woody Allen: angry at life, skeptical of others and pessimistic to no end. He talks about his drug use (“I did heroin a lot,” he states bluntly) his desire to quit the band and hints at the sad end of his life when he discusses his chronic stomach pain and his suicidal thoughts.

Because we never see Cobain, it’s easy to forget that he’s the one who’s talking. For someone with one of the most distinctive singing voices in a century, Cobain’s speaking voice is so indistinct. There is none of that iconic howl that was so crucial to Nirvana’s success in these interviews. And by refusing to show him to us, director AJ Schnack has stripped Cobain of his mystique. Cobain’s allowed to be who he perhaps was beneath all that: an incredibly thoughtful, discontented musician.

Michael Azerrad, former Rolling Stone editor and author of as “Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana,” conducted the first of the interviews with Cobain on my 12th birthday. Months before my 13th birthday, Cobain was dead. Though some of my hipper friends had already discovered grunge, I was still mired in the comedy record ghetto, years away from discovering pop music. If you’d played those opening iconic notes from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” back then, I’d have probably started singing the words of the Weird Al parody version, “Smells Like Nirvana.”

Which is all to suggest that I am not a Nirvana expert, and not even really much of a fan (I’m probably a bigger fan of Azerrad, who also wrote the superb book “Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground 1981-1991”) and I can’t speak here to how a Nirvana obsessive may react to the film. My reaction was largely sadness, not just for Cobain’s problems, but for his self-awareness of them coupled with his inability to correct them. He sounds like a man strapped into an amusement park ride who’s discovered he wants to get off just after the train’s left the station. A lot of documentaries about musicians make you want to go and put on one of the band’s records as soon as the film is over. “Kurt Cobain About a Son” — which doesn’t a feature a note of Nirvana music on its soundtrack — didn’t make me want to do that. It made me want to take a deep breath and a long walk in the sunshine.

“Kurt Cobain About a Son” is now in theaters (official site).

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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