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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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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

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