Reviews of six unofficial Nirvana DVDs

Over the past few years, a number of unofficial Nirvana/Kurt Cobain DVDs have been released - most of questionable quality. Usually, such documentaries would contain interviews with people that were more or less knowledgable about the band and they'd contain no actual Nirvana music.

But in recent years, a handful of unofficial DVDs have emerged that actually feature original Nirvana music - as well as interviews with people who worked with the band or have some authority to speak about Nirvana-related memories.

This story will take a look at six of the unofficial Nirvana DVDs that have come out in the past 2-3 years. All six were produced in the UK (and consequently focus mostly on British interview subjects). Three of them were released by Chrome Dreams and two by Classic Rock Direct (now known as Warwick Media Distribution, Ltd). Not to be confused by the Classic Albums series.

Since it can be rather difficult to locate useful information online about what you can actually expect to find on these DVDs, the following will be a detailed run-through of the contents, but not a thorough review per se. You will also find cover scans, screenshots and info to help identify the releases.

Title: Inside NIRVANA - An Independent Critical Review
Released by: Classic Rock Productions, Ltd. 2004
Runtime: 48 minutes
Bonus material: None
Audio: Dolby Digital, Dolby 5.1 surround sound, DTS
Cover art: Sleeve - DVD menu - Screenshot
People interviewed: Phillip Luce (Aberdeen resident), Alice Wheeler (photographer), Dave Thompson (author), Natasha Scharf (music journalist), Les Blue (manager, Rosewear's Music Center), Leland Cobain (Kurt's grandfather), Amy Hanson (journalist), Micole Landrew McFalklind (old friend of Kurt), Paul Fritts and Jeff Burlingame (Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee), Warren Mason (guitar teacher), Dave Reed (Cobain friend and Aberdeen resident).

This is one of the unofficial DVDs that contains actual Nirvana music, albeit all of it is taken from live performances. In addition, all the concert and tv clips are rather short (20 seconds or less) and one could suspect that the producers figured they could get away with using actual Nirvana music as long as the clips didn't exceed 30 seconds!

The Nirvana footage includes: Smells Like Teen Spirit (Saturday Night Live 1992), About A Girl, Negative Creep and Smells Like Teen Spirit (November 19, 1991 Rome, Italy concert), Lithium (MTV Video Music Awards 1992), Heart-Shaped Box and Scentless Apprentice (December 13, 1993 MTV Live & Loud concert), Rape Me (Saturday Night Live 1993) and All Apologies (MTV Unplugged 1993). None of this is rare footage and most of it is not in pristine quality. The Rome footage is from a show that was filmed professionally and broadcast on Italian TV channel Videomusic in the 90s (and has since become one of the most widely bootlegged Nirvana performances).

The DVD is comprised of interview footage (see list of people interviewed above), concert and tv clips (also detailed above) as well as clips of a 1993 Nirvana interview from Brazil which is reproduced in horrible quality.

Except for Alice Wheeler talking about her work with Nirvana, including their first ever photo shoot, interesting comments from the two founders of the Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee, and Leland Cobain talking about his grandson, there isn't much of interest on this DVD. Indeed, most of the interview subjects seem to use the phrase "I think" a lot, and do not offer much aside from their personal opinions and theories on everything Nirvana and, especially, Kurt Cobain. In addition, Nirvana's studio albums are briefly reviewed and graded. It is an okay production though and the actual Nirvana footage gives the DVD a boost in the right direction.

Title: Rock Review NIRVANA - A Critical Retrospective
Released by: Classic Rock Productions, Ltd. 2004
Runtime: 72 minutes
Bonus material: None
Audio: Dolby Digital, Dolby 5.1 surround sound, DTS
Cover art: Sleeve - DVD menu - Screenshot
People interviewed: Tommy Vance (presenter), Charles R. Cross (author and journalist), Gary Moore (filmmaker), Tony Dolan (musician and director), Jonathan Wingate (music journalist), Cameron Mouat (music journalist), Keith Tempest (singer and vocalist in Nirvana-cover band, Cobain).

The first thing that strikes you when watching this feature is that, from a purely visual perspective, it is a rather aesthetically pleasing presentation and 'package'. Produced by the same folks who brought us the other "critical review" DVD, detailed above, this one is superior.

The DVD offers a good combination of competent presentation by the late radio legend Tommy Vance; cover music from a good Nirvana cover-band called Cobain; interviews and even original Nirvana music:

About A Girl, Sliver, Blew, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Rape Me (November 19, 1991 Rome, Italy concert) and On A Plain (MTV Unplugged 1993).

This documentary is seemingly very professionally produced, at least in terms of the presentation. When it comes to the 'meat', the contents, there could perhaps have been something more substantial. There are no interviews with people who actually worked with or knew the band members, but instead a panel of journalists and critics who try their best to share their knowledge and theories about the Nirvana legacy. There's even a psychologist trying to make sense of Kurt Cobain's actions by analyzing his persona. For the most part, this is a bit of a mishap.

More controversially, the documentary briefly deals with the subject of the Kurt Cobain murder theories. Indeed, the sleeve makes a point of stating that the film was "not authorized, censored or influenced in any way by Nirvana, Geffen Records or the estate of Kurt Cobain" [a euphemism for Courtney Love].

Generally, if you can appreciate the fact that the majority of statements being delivered come from critics and journalists, it is a good DVD that features a solid mix of actual Nirvana music and a load of respectful and solid covers, with sensible thoughts and comments shared by a small panel of music experts. It tells the story of Nirvana in very broad strokes, albeit with a primary focus on the life of Kurt Cobain.

Note: Classic Rock Direct have also issued a two-disc DVD set called "Nirvana - Music in Review" in 2005. I believe this set has the same content as the two DVDs above, but I haven't been able to get this confirmed. In that connection, there's also a two-disc DVD set from 2006 called "Nirvana - The Definitive Critical Review" which is probably the same as the "Nirvana - Music in Review" set? And I haven't even mentioned "Nirvana - The Ultimate Review" which is yet another obscure Classic Rock Legends release.

Title: Kurt Cobain - All Apologies
Released by: DVD UK, Ltd. 2006
Runtime: 59 minutes (+ 50 minutes of bonus material)
Bonus material: "Extended interviews" and "The future, then"
Audio: Dolby Digital Sterep
Cover art: Sleeve - DVD menu - Screenshot
People interviewed: Keith Cameron (Mojo magazine), Tracy Marander (Kurt's ex-girlfriend), Steve Sutherland (NME), Claire Sturgess (DJ/broadcaster), David Fricke (Rolling Stone magazine), Leland Cobain (Kurt's grandfather), Russell Warby (UK Nirvana booking agent), Anton Brooks (UK Nirvana PR), Charles R. Cross (author and journalist), Chad Channing (former Nirvana drummer), Jack Endino (record producer), Steve Diggle (The Buzzcocks), Terry Christian (presenter, 'The Word') and Charles Peterson (photographer).

This is actually one of the best unofficial DVDs I've seen. It doesn't contain so much original Nirvana music - only a few clips here and there - but what it does contain is quite interesting. You'll see fairly rare clips from Nirvana concerts and even unaired footage from Nirvana's performance on the British TV show 'The Word' in 1991.

There's also clips from a 1993 Kurt Cobain interview that I personally hadn't seen before, and the bonus material features a more complete version of the hilarious "with a twist of lemon" interview. In addition, there's clips from Nirvana's last performance in Munich and wisely picked segments from Nirvana's 1993 MTV interview. There's even a rarely seen clip from CBS of Dan Rather's news segment from April 1994 announcing Kurt Cobain's death.

The combination of the archive material with new interviews makes for a good DVD overall. Especially because the DVD features interviews with people that worked closely with the band, such as Jack Endino, Chad Channing, Charles Peterson and Nirvana representatives in the UK - all of whom give good interviews. Not to mention Tracy Marander, Charles R. Cross and David Fricke who also share interesting stories, expert knowledge and fascinating insights for this DVD.

The documentary also briefly comments on the murder theories and is, at times, very critical of Kurt as a person. This is a refreshing change from the usual "Kurt is God" documentaries that are sometimes produced, and overall this documentary generally comes off as a more fresh and honest runthrough of a familiar narrative. Recommended.

Title: In Utero: A Classic Album Under Review
Released by: Sexy Intellectual Production (Part of Chrome Dreams). 2006
Runtime: 65 minutes (+ 2 minutes of bonus material)
Bonus material: "Nirvana Unplugged - A Classic album", "Contributor biographies" and "Interactive Nirvana Quiz"
Audio: Stereo
Cover art: Sleeve - DVD menu - Screenshot
People interviewed: Tim Appelo (journalist), Charles R. Cross (author and journalist), Peter Blecha (curator of Experience Music Project museum), Chad Channing (former Nirvana drummer), Mark Paytress (Mojo magazine), Ben Thompson (The Independent and Mojo magazine), Mark Sutherland (Billboard magazine), Slim Moon (director of Kill Rock Stars), Tracy Marander (Kurt's ex-girlfriend), Andrew Mueller (The Guardian), Jack Endino (record producer) and David Stubbs (Wire magazine).

This DVD is interesting for two reasons: a lot of people are interviewed, including a few that actually worked closely with the band such as Chad Channing and Jack Endino. Second: this is the only unofficial Nirvana/Cobain DVD I've come across that, legally or not, actually features Nirvana studio recordings. High-quality clips from the music videos to Smells Like Teen Spirit and Heart-Shaped Box also raises the overall quality significantly and almost makes it appear as a VH-1/MTV production (it is not, of course).

The Nirvana music you can find on this DVD is as follows: Serve The Servants, Scentless Apprentice, Rape Me, Pennyroyal Tea and Radio Friendly Unit Shifter (December 13, 1993 MTV Live & Loud concert), About a Girl (studio version from Bleach), Rape Me (October 1992 studio version from With The Lights Out), Serve The Servants, Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle and tourette's (studio version from In Utero), Polly, Dumb and All Apologies (MTV Unplugged 1993). There's also clips from music videos with artists such as The Pixies and Sonic Youth.

In addition to the original Nirvana music, the DVD includes clips from the 1992 Swedish Nirvana interview.

Overall, this is not a bad DVD at all. It has some good interviews, e.g. with Jack Endino and Chad Channing, and it's a very nice touch that you get to hear original Nirvana music throughout - even if it's just short clips. Some interviews are culled from previous Chrome Dreams productions, however, such as the two DVDs detailed below. Finally, only some of the documentary actually deals with the In Utero album, but the main focus is on that. The bonus feature - an interactive quiz with 25 questions - is also a nice touch.

Title: NIRVANA - The Untold Stories
Released by: Chrome Dreams. 2003
Runtime: 70 minutes
Bonus material: "Interactive Trivia Quiz" and "Discography"
Audio: Stereo
Cover art: Sleeve - DVD menu - Screenshot
People interviewed: Tim Appelo (journalist), Jack Endino (record producer), Leland Cobain (Kurt's grandfather), Steve Fisk (record producer), Slim Moon (director of Kill Rock Stars), Paul White and Steve Schillinger (school friends), Darrin Neathery (school friend), Charles R. Cross (author and journalist), Robert Lang (record producer), Ryan Aigner (early manager) and people who were present at first Nirvana show.

This DVD contains no original Nirvana music and the interviews are for the most part rather boring and with somewhat obscure characters in the Nirvana tale.

There are interviews with folks that the other documentaries don't have, however: Steve Fisk and Robert Lang are briefly interviewed. Otherwise there isn't much to find on this DVD which looks and comes off as a very lo-fi and low budget effort.

Many of the interview clips used in this documentary were also used in the other Chrome Dreams release, "Kurt Cobain - The Early Life of a Legend" which is detailed below.

Aside from momentarily interesting tidbits in the interviews, this DVD is not worth buying and won't offer you much in the way of "untold stories" about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain.

Title: Kurt Cobain - The Early Life of a Legend
Released by: Chrome Dreams. 2004
Runtime: 87 minutes
Bonus material: "Quiz", "Discography"
Audio: Stereo
Cover art: Sleeve - DVD menu - Screenshot
People interviewed: Charles R. Cross (author and journalist), Peter Blecha (music historian), Del Allebough (school friend), Leland Cobain (Kurt's grandfather), Darrin Neathery (school friend), Rod Marsh (school friend), Tim Nelson (music teacher), Paul White and Steve Schillinger (school friends), Ryan Aigner (early manager), Chad Channing (former Nirvana drummer), Lamont Schillinger (former caretaker), Slim Moon (director of Kill Rock Stars), Tracy Marander (Kurt's ex-girlfriend), Jack Endino (record producer) and people who were present at first Nirvana show.

Yet another Chrome Dreams release - this one the longest. Again, no original Nirvana music is included and instead you'll bare witness to a string of very long and for the most part boring interviews.

As the title suggests, the documentary focuses on the life of Kurt Cobain and for the first 30 minutes or so, there's not much talk about his career in music. There's also shots from around the Aberdeen, Montesano, Seattle and Olympia areas. There is one fairly interesting segment with Tracy showing some of Kurt's paintings and periodically there are some mildly curious stories and facts conveyed by the interview subjects. As expected, the winners in the interview game are people such as Endino, Charles R. Cross, Leland Cobain (who shows some of Kurt's drawings that, I believe, were later sold on eBay) and Chad Channing. As previously mentioned, some of these interviews were also used - in abbreviated form - for other Chrome Dreams DVDs that focus on Nirvana and Cobain.

Again, a very lo-fi and kind of cheap-looking production. Probably the poorest DVD out of the six.

Note: Chrome Dreams have also released a two disc DVD-set called "Nirvana - DVD Collector's Box" in 2006. I believe this is the same material as can be found on the two DVDs detailed above, but I haven't been able to get this confirmed.

Posted in NFC news section at on 02-18-2007 @ 5:42 PM (GMT).

Return to main page.