Kurt Cobain's raspy vocals seemed to bellow from the depths of some bottomless lamentful chasm. His music was sodden with a kind of relatable torment, and at times adorned with a beautiful mourning so honest and distinctive that it could never be replicated. But was the somber tone of his work a sign of inevitable self-destruction, or were there more sinister powers at play in the last days of his life, over two decades ago? Director Benjamin Statler's new docu-drama Soaked in Bleach suggests that there may have been foul play when it comes to the late Nirvana frontman's tragic demise, and that his wife, Courtney Love, may have been the orchestrator.
Told through reenactments and expert interviews, the film centers around Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Love to find her missing husband, just days before his body was discovered at their home. It would be easy to dismiss the film as just a kooky conspiracy theory, but admittedly, some of the evidence is difficult to ignore.
I first heard of the murder theory with the release of Nick Broomfield's Kurt & Courtney documentary back in 1998. I was inclined to dismiss the idea, as these types of notions inevitably follow the death of a beloved icon; and as far as I knew, the name Kurt Cobain had been synonymous with depression and suicide for as long as I could remember. But the film left more than a lasting impression, and Soaked in Bleach is a suitable follow-up.
Like its predecessor, Statler's effort succeeds in showcasing a very disingenuous and manipulative Courtney Love, whose voracious thirst for fame found her married with child to the biggest rock star of her time, all in a span of under three years. The film's moody cinematography and informative expert interviews are woven together with actual telephone recordings of an exceedingly dodgy and evasive Love. The 90-minute piece is enough to leave you with an unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach.
The June release comes fresh on the heels of Brett Morgen's Montage of Heck, an artistic, sometimes schizophrenic journey into the supposed heart and psyche of Kurt Cobain, that while moving and brilliantly assembled, does not address his death at all. Much to the bewilderment of fans like myself, it even leaves out key players like former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, whose endless feuds and lawsuits with Courtney Love were no secret, up until her awkward surprise hug at Nirvana's Rock Hall of Fame induction that left Grohl rubicund and confused.
When questioned in various interviews, Morgen becomes noticeably agitated and defensive in response to the missing footage, stating that Grohl just wasn't an intimate enough relation to Cobain, and that cutting in his interview after picture wrap disrupted his ability to "evaluate the heartbeat of the film."
It's hard to imagine how the inclusion of someone who rose to stardom with Cobain at such a young age, spent years touring with him in cramped vans and tour buses (it doesn't get more intimate than that), and even shared an apartment with the late singer/guitarist could ever be considered anything but important to his story. Morgen insists that Courtney, who has made something of a career out of suing virtually anyone who even uttered Cobain's name, gave him the keys to the vault with unrestricted access. With respect, one has to wonder why Morgen was so special.
But Soaked in Bleach is a different film altogether, and ripe with evidence that Kurt Cobain's death may truly have been arranged by a desperate wife threatened with divorce and amputation from a will worth millions. If nothing else, Statler's documentary, with the help of Tom Grant, establishes a formidable motive, difficult to discount.
The most alarming and damning of the film's evidence, for me, was the practice sheet allegedly found in Courtney Love's backpack by Rosemary Caroll, Kurt and Courtney's attorney and Godmother to daughter, Frances Bean. The sheet contains various letter combinations virtually identical to Cobain's handwriting that, according to various forensic writing specialists in the film, could also be found in his suicide note, particularly the last four, most contended lines. If that doesn't make your jaw drop, nothing else will.
No matter what you believe the true story behind Kurt Cobain's death to be, viewers will be hard pressed to watch Soaked in Bleach, or Kurt & Courtney for that matter, without the overwhelming feeling that something just doesn't feel right about the whole damn thing. Even if you think Cobain has simply become the Elvis of Generation X, or was just another tragic icon destined to burn out far too soon, you'll find the information in these films to be a strikingly persuasive argument in giving the death of one of rock's most brilliant musicians another good, hard look.