When Kurt Cobain sang, “Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach/ As I want you to be” on ‘Come As You Are’, he couldn’t have imagined his words would end up here. New documentary Soaked In Bleach, the directorial debut by American filmmaker Benjamin Statler, aims to convince viewers that contrary to the police officially ruling the cause of death as suicide, Cobain was instead murdered, most likely by his wife Courtney Love. Not only does the film set out to investigate the supposed inconsistencies surrounding the Nirvana frontman’s death, citing inadequate police conduct, Love’s erratic behaviour and possible ulterior motives, but acts as a public petition for the case to be reopened. Former Seattle police chief Norman Stamper goes on record to admit doubts over the ruling.
However, the main problem is not that the theories presented here are overly outlandish, salacious or possibly slanderous (Love is currently seeking legal action against Statler), but that it ultimately offers nothing new. It regurgitates arguments that have been available within the threads of online message boards for the past two decades. Soaked In Bleach also takes much of its evidence from Nick Broomfield’s 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney which also offered an alternative narrative of Cobain’s passing, albeit in a slightly more balanced and impartial manner.
Just like that film, Soaked In Bleach positions private detective Tom Grant (hired by Love to investigate Cobain’s initial disappearance prior to his body being found) as a key witness. All we really find out is that his views haven’t changed, or been substantiated, in 16 years. Even for viewers new to the topic (to which the arguments may appear convincing) the film’s artless welding of talking head interviews, documentary footage and hammy, dramatic re-enactments ultimately render it directionless and ineffective.
In a July interview with American radio station KCRW, Statler said, “The thing is now we have the most qualified, renowned experts saying unequivocally that the investigation should be reopened. So I believe that should be respected and I hope people will take it seriously before they jump to a conclusion.” But this is in no way the hard-hitting doc he was aiming for, instead it comes off sensationalist and throwaway.
Its failings are more glaring when you consider the success of Brett Morgen’s Montage Of Heck, released in August. There’s only one film that even the biggest Nirvana fanatics need to see this year and this sure isn’t it.