Director: Benjamin Statler
Writer: Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton, and Benjamin Statler
Cinemtographer: Ben Kutchins
by Jon Cvack
I remember hearing about a sister (or step-sister) documentary to HBO’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck that was dealing with some legal issues from Courtney Love, delaying release. I’m skeptical of all conspiracy-theorist films, mostly because if they’re any good they’ll offer an extremely convincing argument, which when examined more closely, is often weak and easily refuted. One of the primary elements that’s often missing is presenting arguments with reliable experts, and that’s precisely where Soaked in Bleach is a bit different from your average conspiracy doc in that you have the former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper and the former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Cyril Wecht presenting reasonable and clear arguments, who aren’t exactly ignorable figures. Another common issue with conspiracy documentaries - and often causes them to sink - is the motive factory, where with Cobain looking to be worth tens of millions of dollars, far more successful than his wife Courtney Love, of whom he signed a prenuptial agreement and then expressed interest in divorcing, would leave her with nothing, creating a motive that's far from uncommon.
What a lot of reviewers fail to see is that these two individuals, along with most other subjects, are not necessarily convinced that Kurt Cobain was murdered, so much as asking some legitimate questions that can’t be answered on account of the Seattle Police Department’s refusal to reopen the case.
The entire film uses real dialogue captured by Private Investigator Tom Grant, who upon being hired, recorded each and every conversation he had with many of the principles characters involved in the case. So while we’re watching reenactments - as awkward as they play out - we have to accept that this is exactly what was said and between who. And Courtney says a lot of crazy shit. Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com thinks that these sequences can’t be taken seriously and subsequently weaken the overall narrative. Funny how trying to put significant production value into a style that was celebrated by Errol Morris is now falling victim to pretentious criticism. In this case, it seems Tallerico is fine with flashbacks, so long as they aren’t too cartoony. I don’t think Sarah Scott’s performance as Courtney Love is all that strong - or really any of the actors (with the exception of Kurt’s best friend, who did great), but again, having someone act out lines that were actually said by the person you’re playing in a way that sounds as authentic as possible - while not impossible - is a significant challenge for a documentary filmmaker or actor. You can either embellish the material and make it your own, or honor the victims and work with exactly what was recorded.
These highly produced flashback episodes, which whether you enjoy the conspiracy or not, does paint a very noirish portrait of the entire situation, backdropped against the endless Seattle rain, with Courtney Love as the perfect femme fatale. Watching Montage of Heck a few days prior, it was clear that their entire relationship was tumultuous. We see the ugly footage of both trying to parent their newborn child while high out of their minds on heroin. You could feel the distance between the two, who appeared almost to be together for the supeficial reasons of shared fame per the likes of Bieber and Selena Gomez, or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, than for any genuine affection, at least after the romantic period concluded.
What’s most suspicious is the amount of individuals close to Kurt who refuted the idea that he was suicidal, which Courtney helped perpetuate. We see many of his closest friends, both before his fame and after, painting a portrait of the guy entirely at odds with mainstream perceptions. Secondly, is the fact of the amount of heroin in Kurt Cobain’s body, which was about 2.5x the regular dosage, was enough to render one incapable of lifting up a shotgun and shooting themselves in the head, if not kill them immediately. While one doctor came forward with proof against this criticism, it was later discovered that he tested the situation with methadone and therefore the results were inconclusive. As of yet, this piece of evidence still hasn't been properly refuted.
In one heartbreaking sequence, we see that Kurt had checked himself into rehab, deciding that his wild relationship was not worth the damage to his daughter, who he planned to take away and then divorce Courtney, demanding full custody. You don’t have to be Raymond Chandler to see the motive in the situation. Courtney Love’s career was a fraction as popular as Nirvana, and considering the two signed a prenuptial agreement, it was clear that she’d have a massive, million dollar incentive to kill him then and there, rather than getting nothing - no daughter, no career, no money.
Of course, there are countless other arguments - the note itself looks very strange, in that the writing has two distinct styles, both in how they were written and what was said (though, yes, this could have been a side effect of the heroin); a lawyer discovered and provided Grant documents showing that Courtney had practiced Kurt’s handwriting, which handwriting experts verified by comparing those forgeries to the suicide note's second half; the Seattle police concluded it was suicide within the same day of discovering the body (an unusually rushed process); Courtney’s chronic failure to keep her story straight to authorities and others, constantly doing and saying things that would put any figure under suspicion, such as during an important meeting between Tom Grant and Kurt’s best friend about what happened the night of the murder, we see that she took the friend upstairs to shoot him up full of heroin before his interview, rendering him useless, and this all on tape; and so on.
Again, I’m not saying that this means he was murdered. I just think that in an age where conspiracy documentaries and materials are everywhere, people are particularly - and rightfully - critical of new additions to the genre. However, and ironically, for all the reviews I read from VH1, Roger Ebert, Esquire, etc. I only hear weak refutations, disagreeing with minute facts, and cherry picking what’s convenient. It doesn’t seem possible to accept any of this as reasonable as no one wants to look stupid. The experts in this film are simply requesting that the case be opened to the public and reexamined. I think the film presents more than enough evidence to grant this request. When you have the former Seattle Police Chief and President of Forensics saying the same, I can’t really give much weight to movie reviewers and facile criticisms.
BELOW: The infamous handwritten note, with former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper and two forensic experts, questioning its legitimacy (yes, it could have been the heroin)
Thoughts on films, old and new
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