Coming on the heels of Montage of Heck (read our review), director Benjamin Statler gives us Soaked in Bleach, an investigative docudrama on the death of Kurt Cobain. This film is currently carrying an abysmal rating on Rotten Tomatoes and there are probably two likely reasons: (1) It plays like a cold case files type TV show and (2) It only nicely, and melodramatically, summarizes what we already know. Every beat of this film has long existed on the Justice for Kurt website (started in 2001) and/or private investigator Tom Grant’s site Cobain Case.
The film is primarily focused on the investigation by Tom Grant into the whereabouts, and subsequently, death of Kurt Cobain. Mr. Grant was hired by Courtney Love, whom after his first meeting with the rock star/trainwreck, decided to tape all of their conversations. These taped conversations play throughout the film as either the viewer hearing the audio tape, or as it’s reenacted by actors Sarah Scott (as Love) and Daniel Roebuck (as Grant). These taped conversations portray the widow Cobain as a pathological liar and sociopath.
But, there’s more to the story than just Ms. Love: there’s the bush league investigation by the Seattle Police Department and there’s the spread of misinformation by major media outlets. The Seattle PD did a crap job at the scene. They let Kurt’s body be cremated only 6 days after he was found dead, they returned the shotgun found at the scene to Courtney Love before they dusted it for finger prints, and they let the crime scene (or suicide scene) get torn down a month later. The police report makes numerous presumptions that don’t make sense. The shell from the shotgun blast is found in a position contrary to the reported suicide. The toxicology report shows he had 3 times the lethal dose of heroin in his system, though the PD never questioned how he would be able to then shoot himself with a shotgun.
Throughout the story’s narrative, we learn through the taped conversations between Tom Grant and Courtney Love that various media reports are likely fabrications from Courtney and are contrary to the story she tells Grant. MTV and local news stations run with anything she says, helping to create a mythology that Kurt was, and has always been, suicidal. Unfortunately, this aspect of the story is not given as much attention as the police work and Mr. Grant’s investigation. Indeed, Love’s high profile gave her an ability to say just about anything and have it catch like wildfire. The film notes that Kurt’s drug overdose in Rome just months prior to his death was always spoken of as an accident. However, after Kurt’s death, Love begins telling us that was his first suicide attempt (she also says this in Montage).
Soaked in Bleach needs Montage of Heck. As Bleach impresses upon us that Love emphasized Kurt’s suicidal tendencies to support the story, Montage is almost a tribute to depressed and suicidal Kurt. As it stands, we still don’t know the true (or complete) story of Kurt’s life or death. Soaked in Bleach is a watchable film for anyone who likes Learning Network type crime shows. Nirvana and Kurt fans will likely be split 50/50. You either firmly believe that there is more to Cobain’s death than just suicide or you would rather just move on with your life and enjoy the music.
– J. Kevin Lynch