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Scarecrow on Seattle: THE VIGIL (FOR KURT COBAIN)

In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with the Seattle Office of Film + Music to bring you reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest with an emphasis on how these films showcase the region's many filmable locations.

The Vigil (For Kurt Cobain) (1998)

Direct-to-home video film studio The Asylum is best known for their "mockbusters" where they produce low-budget knockoffs of major Hollywood releases. For example, their Transmorphers was a thinly veiled variation on Michael Bay's Transformers. At first glance The Vigil (For Kurt Cobain) appears to be The Asylum's take on Highway as both films deal with a group of losers embarking on a transcontinental road trip to Seattle for Kurt Cobain's memorial on April 11, 1994. The weird thing is, in this case, the scenario seems to be the other way around, as The Vigil was made in 1998 and Highway didn't hit the cinemas until 2002. But it all makes a little more sense when one realizes that The Vigil, an independently produced Canadian film, was picked up for home video distribution by The Asylum. The DVD wasn't released until December of 2001, just a couple of months before their higher-profile American counterpart hit the cinemas, so things don't seem so bizzaro-world after all.

While Highway presented a Hollywood-style coked-up, spazzed-out music video type approach to its material, The Vigil is a much more laid back, low-budget affair. A group of twenty-something slackers in Lethbridge, Alberta spend their time at a local diner smoking cigarettes and talking about music. The gang laments Kurt Cobain's recent suicide and discusses the dramatic impact grunge rock had on popular music. Somebody whips out a Billboard top seller list from 1991 and notes all the "bad" music that soon got wiped off the charts in the wake of Nirvana's Nevermind album. They list a few other "good" acts, including groups like The Replacements and R.E.M. This being a Canadian film, The Tragically Hip is also on the "good" list. The gang decides to embark on a road trip to the Seattle Center for the Cobain memorial. Along the way they encounter some eccentric fellow travelers, talk about music, argue about stuff, and smoke lots of cigarettes. Most of The Vigil is shot in Canada but after about an hour and twenty minutes they enter the USA at the Peace Arch Border Crossing and soon end up in Seattle, which is conveyed by a shot of the Space Needle. The crew is a little behind schedule and they miss the vigil by a day. Undaunted, they stroll around a trashed Seattle Center that is littered with paper and garbage and engage in a heated argument by the fountain.

Like Highway, The Vigil (a "Come As You Arts" production) purports to be an homage to Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement, yet there are absolutely zero Nirvana songs on the soundtrack. The Vigil mostly uses two Vancouver bands, The Bughouse 5 and the Saddlesores, that aren't particularly "grungy" but were probably cheap to use. I also wonder if the decision to have the gang miss the Cobain memorial was a financial one as a recreation of the event would probably cost the film's entire budget.

-Spenser Hoyt


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