Kurt Cobain Suicide Controversy. ‘Soaked In Bleach,’ A Film by Benjamin Statler
Soaked in Bleach (a lyric in “Come as You Are” from the album Nevermind), is the metaphoric, suggestive title of Benjamin Statler’s film which infers what really happened in the Kurt Cobain death investigation. The documentary begins with the acknowledgement that for Generation X, Kurt Cobain was the equivalent of what John Lennon was for the baby boomers. Both ended up dead before their time with Cobain at 27, the same age as Jim Morrison at his death. Cobain was the “go-to” Alternative-Rock icon, establishing grunge music with a permanent place in the stars and Cobain’s Nirvana the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 in 1992 with the album Nevermind. His tragic death two years later on April 8th, 1994 was pronounced a suicide by the Seattle Police Department.
The question of whether it was or wasn’t a suicide is the subject of Soaked in Bleach. The filmmakers with pinpoint logic, methodical and meticulous details and facts underscore that the gunshot wound to Cobain’s head, the position of the rifle and Courtney Love’s (his wife), insistence that Cobain was suicidal, prematurely closed down any further death investigation of the quiet, press-shy man whose music reached out to the down trodden of society and whose language spoke to the “average Joe in the streets.”
Statler uses film clips of testimony by retired law enforcement experts in forensics, investigation and homicide, who point out that a death ruled a suicide conveniently precludes the need for any further investigation of the evidence. After such a ruling, investigation becomes nearly impossible. This is doubly so for Cobain whose body has been cremated; interestingly, the building where his body was found, soon afterward was ordered torn down. The notion of suicide was first presented by Courtney Love when she hired private investigator Tom Grant to locate Kurt Cobain. This was five days before the corpse was located. That notion of suicide was fueled by the media along with other misinformation which the filmmakers expose as lies. Indeed, the rapacious media reveled in the story of another celebrity rocker nihilist who “burned bright and burned out.” Thus, filmmakers disclose that the idea of Cobain’s death as a suicide was entrenched. It helped to obliterate the need for any credible death investigation into what really might have happened. According to experts the Seattle Police Department prompted by Love in a highly unusual and uncharacteristic move for law enforcement death investigations ruled his death a suicide in one day, the day the body was found. Then they closed the file on Cobain.
If suicide is convenient for the police and the possible murderer or murderers, then inconvenient is the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide as it has influenced others. Fans of the rocker have celebrated him in death by more greatly embracing his music and memory in life. Then there are the others. These are the copy cat suicides. Reports of teens have sprung up over the years. It is a global phenomenon. As parents have had to bury their children who killed themselves leaving notes that referenced Cobain’s death or Nirvana’s song lyrics, they’ve had to go through the tragedy of asking themselves how they could have prevented their deaths. To date there have been 68 related copy cat suicides, each one of them a profound, individual family tragedy. To consider that Cobain might have been the victim not of his own hands but of someone else’s would make their deaths a completely macabre and twisted irony too horrible to contemplate.
Soaked in Bleach reveals this and more as filmmakers travel the stark, mind bending road uncovering truths that conclude Cobain’s death was improperly investigated and incorrectly determined. The implications that his was a probable homicide run far and wide to decrying the investigative skills of the Seattle Police Department and implicating those in charge at the time. If the investigation of Cobain’s death is reopened as suggested by journalist Max Wallace and officials like retired Seattle Chief of Police, Norm Stamper, Vernon J. Geberth, former Homicide Commander of NYPD, the Bronx, and Dr. Cyril H. Wecht (Forensic Pathologist and Former President of the American Academy of Forensic Science), and if Cobain’s death is ruled a homicide, the problem will be locating enough evidence to identify a killer or killers. Motive will play a huge factor in that determination. Filmmakers, through the testimony of experts, suggest possibilities.
This documentary first and last is tantamount to a crime thriller. Though Cobain’s suicide ruling by police was a quick and dirty convenience, Statler and co-writers Donnie Eichar and Richard Middleton make the compelling case that it wasn’t. They present this argument throughout with clips of Cobain’s friends who give testimony about his positive mental state, tape recordings, experts’ commentary, and recreations of the players who peopled the last days of Cobain’s life before the body was discovered.
These evidentiary revelations and facts are contrasted with media misrepresentations and video clip commentary by Seattle Police investigators who journalist Max Wallace, Norm Stamper, Vernon J. Geberth and others infer made a “rush to judgment.” The lynchpin in the filmmakers’ presentation is private investigator Tom Grant whose law enforcement background and reputation are sterling. Grant, who was hired by Courtney Love to locate Kurt Cobain 5 days before his body was found, discusses his experiences dealing with Love during this time. It is his revelations that are the most startling, it is his commentary that is the most logical and convincing.
As Statler focuses on Grant, he includes audio clips of Grant’s tape recordings of conversations with Courtney Love and others during the time he worked for her. Suspicious of Courtney Love’s contradictory stories, Grant taped her and taped all of those he spoke to including her attorney and Cobain’s friends. With these tapes and Grant’s narrative, filmmakers narrow to a still point his logical conclusions and the rationale which teases out the threads of truth from media falsehoods. It is these which they sew into a manifest tapestry that Cobain’s death was anything but a suicide.
The documentary is beautifully organized and layered into clear, easy to understand segments. Statler’s adept direction makes excellent use of his recreations to reveal the chronology of the days Grant worked with Love. Continually interspersed throughout are clips of the experts who pull apart the Seattle Police Department’s uber brief death investigation to reveal their mismanagement of the case, their blunders as well as how and why this probably occurred. Pieces of evidence and reports are reviewed. There is one that is particularly astounding. It was identified that the amount of heroin in Cobain’s body would have put him in a coma or near coma state; he would not have been sentient enough to use a shotgun to kill himself.
Soaked in Bleach is a film to see if you enjoy investigative crime documentaries. Even if one is not a fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, the film is powerful in what it suggests and well made in its presentations and argument. It is clear that the filmmakers have taken the time to carefully reconstruct the possibilities of what didn’t happen in the death of Kurt Cobain. They do this in the interest of discovering what actually did happen to a man whose life had miles to go.
This review first appeared on Blogcritics.