You Decide: “Soaked in Bleach” expounds on the events leading up to Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994
By Bryan Thomas
Source: Night Flight
In 2015, Benjamin Statler produced, wrote and directed Soaked in Bleach, a docu-drama that expounds on the events leading up to the death of Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain as seen through the eyes of a private investigator, Tom Grant.
The former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. detective turned private investigator — who had an exemplary resume and a spotless reputation — had initially been hired by Courtney Love on Easter Sunday 1994 to track down Cobain, who had gone missing after checking himself out of a drug rehab facility.
Soaked in Bleach focuses mainly on Grant’s investigation between April 1st and April 8th, with a particular focus on what may have happened on April 5, 1994.
At the time, the official Seattle Police Department incident report stated that “Kurt Cobain was found with a shotgun across his body, had a visible head wound and there was a suicide note discovered nearby.”
The coroner’s report later estimated that Nirvana’s 27-year-old musician and lead singer’s body had been lying in the “greenhouse,” a mussy little room over the garage at Cobain and Love’s Seattle home, for three days.
It was later determined by local Seattle police detectives that Cobain had committed suicide by a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound, but right from the beginning there were major doubts as to whether this ruling was correct.
This was due in no small part to Grant, who carried on his own investigation, eventually coming to the conclusion that Cobain had been murdered, and his death had been made to look like a suicide.
Grant — who never met Cobain when he was alive — came to realize that Cobain wasn’t the hopeless basketcase his wife had made him out to be, and he could find no one, no family member nor any of Cobain’s close friends, who believed he was suicidal.
In 2014, the Seattle Police Department released a number of photographs from the crime scene, and in 2016 previously-undeveloped film was also shared with the public for the first time.
The docu-drama unfolds like a narrative crime thriller, interwoven with cinematic re-enactments, interviews with key experts and witnesses — including Norm Stamper, ex-chief of the Seattle Police Department; Cyril Wecht, forensic pathologist and former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science; and, Ryan Ainger, Nirvana’s first manager — and the examination of official artifacts from the case, which are analyzed in the minutest details, including crime scene photos, autopsy reports and someone’s “cheat sheet,” which showed they were trying to mimic Cobain’s actual handwriting for the fraudulent suicide note.
Soaked in Bleach‘s dramatic re-enactments feature actor Daniel Roebuck as Grant.
Night Flight fans may recognize Roebuck from his role of “Samson,” the teenage killer in River’s Edge, or from his stint as “Dr. Arzt” from TV’s “LOST,” or from his literally dozens of other roles on episodic TV show and feature films, including lots of horror films.
Tyler Bryan plays Kurt Cobain, and Sarah Scott is the chainsmoking Courtney Love, who can be seen wearing a babydoll nightie and knee-high stockings, rolling around on her bed while answering Grant’s questions.
Grant’s visible unease around Love — who married Kurt Cobain in 1992 — is palpable.
The June 2015 release of Soaked in Bleach was apparently timed to counter a competing documentary, Brett Morgen‘s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, a film — released theatrically at the beginning of the same year — that many considered to be crass and exploitative.
Statler’s docudrama was considered so controversial, though, that Courtney Love’s legal team tried to stop the film’s release by issuing a cease-and-desist warning letters to movie theaters all over the country who were advertising their forthcoming screenings of Soaked In Bleach, under the pretense that his film was “defamatory.”
One of the more chilling and memorable moments in the docu-drama itself comes during an interview with Stamper, who says:
“We should have, in fact, taken steps to study patterns involved in the behavior of key individuals who had a motive to see Kurt Cobain dead. If, in fact, Kurt Cobain was murdered, as opposed to having committed suicide, and it was possible to learn that, shame on us for not doing that. That was, in fact, our responsibility. It’s about right and wrong. It’s about honor. It’s about ethics. If we didn’t get it right the first time, we damn better get it right the second time, and I would tell you now, if I were the Chief of Police, I would re-open this investigation.”
The film’s title comes from lyrics to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” a track from their Nevermind album, released as a single:
That line “Come dowsed in mud, soaked in bleach” was reportedly taken from a campaign in Seattle that encouraged heroin users to soak their needles in bleach after injecting to reduce the risk of spreading HIV (the actual phrase used was “If dowsed in mud, soak in bleach”).
“Soaked in bleach” — in the context of criminal acts — also refers to the destruction of DNA evidence by using bleach.
Watch the full film here.