21st Century Wire
The documentary film ‘Soaked In Bleach‘ is an in-depth examination of the shocking details surrounding the death of Kurt Cobain…
The new feature film presents analysis from noted forensic specialists, as well as dramatic re-enactments of actual events and archival footage.
The further you look into death of the iconic Nirvana singer, the more unanswered questions continue to persist, largely due to the mishandling of forensic evidence collected upon arrival at the scene.
Soaked In Bleach (SIB) is the directorial debut of Benjamin Statler, with narration by Tom Grant, a former L.A. County Sheriff’s detective and veteran private investigator that has intimate knowledge of the case, as he was hired by Courtney Love to track down Kurt Cobain several days before the influential musician’s body was discovered.
The title of the film is a reference to Nirvana’s darkly atmospheric song “Come as You Are,” and if thought of within context of the documentary, the name reinforces the idea of a cover-up concerning Cobain’s death.
Although the media has spent many years disparaging those looking into conspiratorial elements of Cobain’s death, its important to remember that a ‘conspiracy’ is quite simply an agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act against a third party.
As SIB unfolds, Cobain case history is retold ‘through the eyes’ of private investigator Tom Grant, with key witnesses and close friends being interviewed prior to an overview of the most critical forensic elements in the investigation by noted field experts.
In a two-part series featured here at 21WIRE a year ago, we detailed Cobain’s rise to fame, looked at the startling forensic evidence in his death, while also combing over the timeline of events in the month leading up to his shocking demise.
Over the years the nature of the death investigation conducted by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has been called into question, as the ‘official’ ruling made in Cobain’s death was made the moment officers arrived at his Lake Washington residence on April 8th, 1994.
Incredibly, homicide detectives didn’t arrive at the scene until after Cobain’s death was already categorized as a suicide…
‘Collecting the Facts’ – L.A. County Sheriff’s detective and veteran private investigator Tom Grant is prominently featured in Soaked In Bleach. (Photo link shockya.com)
Soaked in Reality
From the opening credits of SIB’s dissolve-laden imagery, the viewer is transported back to a time when the cultural zeitgeist swirling around Cobain and his sudden demise was on full throttle display. The film’s depiction of heavy-handed media reports in the wake of Cobain’s death – only emphasizes the dismal investigation conducted by the SPD over two decades ago.
In the film’s first sequence, we see a re-enactment with private investigator Tom Grant (Daniel Roebuck) and Cobain’s best friend, Dylan Carlson, (August Emerson) at the lake Washington residence. The re-created nighttime scene sets the tone for the film, with a tense search for the missing musician just one day prior to being found dead.
Much of film’s cinematic re-creations are centered around the events leading up to Cobain’s (Tyler Bryan) untimely end, as real-life audio files recorded by Grant merge and sometimes overlap into a scene, revealing many of the lesser known truths concerning the Cobain case. The re-enacted scenes are packaged in a neo-noir style, coupled with recorded conversations featuring Love (Sarah Scott) and others.
The recordings provide deeper insight into the stark reality of the high-profile investigation from 1994, something which SIB adeptly handles.
‘Lake Washington Goes Dark’ – Cobain’s body was found in the greenhouse above, which was later demolished in 1998. (Photo link seattlepi.com)
During the first part of SIB, we also learn of Grant’s high-standing as a detective prior to becoming a full-fledged private investigator, which underscores the credibility of his findings in the Cobain case all these years.
Audiences unfamiliar with the case will learn that there were many young teens who committed suicide following the reports and official ruling in Cobain’s death. In many ways this has been the impetus for Grant’s continued involvement in uncovering the suspicious circumstances surrounding Cobain’s tragic end.
Those new to the case will get a solid overview of Grant’s case study intermixed within SIB’s unique presentation, as it was only after finding a number of anomalies that pointed towards foul play in the case that Grant became even more involved in pursuing the truth.
The most significant element during Grant’s own investigation was the analysis of Cobain’s heroin blood level, as the singer was found to have three times the lethal dose of heroin in his bloodstream coupled with diazepam, prior to the shotgun being used at the scene – a fact that has now been acknowledged by the SPD.
So when considering any other anomalies at the scene, such as shotgun positioning and the expelled shell recovered on the opposite side it should have been, experts state that Cobain would have been incapacitated almost immediately from the dosage of drugs in his system.
Below is another look at a YouTube video uploaded last May, where Grant analyzes and responds to the SPD’s recent review of the Cobain case.
Watch as cold case Detective Mike Ciesynski contradicts the official ruling in the singer’s death, while inappropriately providing his own ‘speculation’ as to how the events unfolded…
‘Proving the Case’ – Well-known forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht ( Photo Link alan.com)
Looking at the Evidence
Near the halfway mark into SIB, we see the inclusion of distinguished forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, former President of the American Academy of Forensic Science who has overseen tens of thousands of autopsies. Below is an excerpt from the film where he casts doubt on the initial investigation into Cobain’s death:
“The decision to rule the case by police the same day and to make a public pronouncement that this was a suicide is not the way good police agencies would function today.”
SIB also includes additional commentary from former NYPD homicide detective Vernon Geberth, who personally reviewed over “eight thousand homicides,” in addition to writing a standardized book on police procedures for death investigations entitled, Practical Homicide Investigation.
Last year, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s death, the SPD’s cold case division unearthed some four rolls of undeveloped film taken at the scene, claiming that this was definitive proof of the initial ruling in the case.
However, according to statements made during SIB, Geberth a well-known field expert in investigation, explains that every crime scene he has ever been involved with, “the photos were developed,” something which has never been reasonably explained by the SPD.
Also featured in the film was Dr. Vincent Di Maio a fellow of the National Association of Medical Examiners and Heidi Harralson, a Forensic Document Examiner – who indicated that there is evidence of another hand at work on the bottom portion (the last 4 lines) of the so-called suicide note.
Perhaps one of the most revealing aspects of SIB, is the inclusion of an audio taped conversation between attorney Rosemary Caroll and Grant.
Caroll never believed the alleged suicide note was completely written by Cobain, or that he was suicidal at all. According to Grant, it was Caroll who initially spurred a deeper investigation to the alarming details concerning the death of the Nirvana star.
‘Another Look’ – Former Chief of Police for the SPD, Norm Stamper from 1994-2000. (Photo link shockya.com)
The film also interviews the former Chief of Police for the SPD, Norm Stamper. Stamper who was the acting chief of police at the time of Cobain’s death, recently expressed his thoughts concerning the forensic details of the case. Here’s an excerpt of his revealing thoughts from the film:
“I would tell you right now that if I were the Chief today, I would re-open this investigation.”
Also during SIB, Stamper discusses former Seattle homicide detective sergeant Don Cameron, who resigned after being accused of helping to cover up evidence that one of his officers stole money at crime scene in 1999.
Cameron was also one of the main detectives involved in the Cobain case, and it was him who was said to have told Love to get rid of a note that Cobain wrote while in Rome just one month before the singer’s death.
‘Troubled Love’ – Courtney Love pictured here during the 18th Annual Satellite Awards last year.
(Photo link rawstory.com)
A Tale of Two Docs
This past March at 21WIRE, in an article entitled DAMAGE CONTROL: Does Cobain Doc ‘Montage of Heck’ Whitewash the Singer’s Death, I discussed the Courtney Love-sanctioned documentary and the apparent impetus for the film. Montage of Heck directed by Brett Morgen, was said to depict a warmer side of the singer, however, it ended up being the same tired portrait of a talented man plagued by inner demons – propping up speculative commentary and emotionally charged interviews as proof of Cobain’s suicide.
From the onset, MOH appeared to have been crafted to evoke an emotional response in the viewer with its quick cut edits of nuclear test site explosions juxtaposed against classic 50’s images, along with horror film relics spliced in an around animation, home video footage and interviews.
For a film that was touted as a celebration of Cobain’s life, they spent an enormous amount of time casting the perceived dark side of an artist ready to end it all.
But not everyone close to Cobain believes the seemingly biased picture presented by MOH…
This past week, Buzz Osborne, the singer and guitarist for the band the Melvins, a friend who knew Cobain before and after his fame, weighed in on MOH, the supposedly ‘definitive’ depiction of Cobain and his life. In a scathing review published at The Talkhouse, the Melvins singer categorically denied aspects of the film that painted Cobain as suicidal at a young age. Here’s a portion of the revealing piece:
“First off, people need to understand that 90% of Montage of Heck is bullshit. Total bullshit. That’s the one thing no one gets about Cobain — he was a master of jerking your chain.”
Continuing, Osborne stated that the depiction of Cobain’s alleged suicide attempt shown in MOH was a not true:
“And the trying-to-kill-himself-on-the-train-tracks story is bullshit as well. It never happened either. There it is, though, told in a recording of Kurt’s own voice so it must be true…right? Wrong.”
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Osborne defended his comments about MOH, reiterating that the story depicting Cobain as being suicidal had been fabricated:
“None of that’s true. I don’t think that’s a good legacy for him to have out there. I know it’s not true. It’s that simple.”
In contrast to MOH, SIB leaves the audience with a sense of understanding about what may have happened to Cobain from a criminal investigation standpoint.
MOH omitted a discussion about the alarming nature of Cobain’s death, as it peppered the viewer with a consensus of suicide without hard evidence.
Another interesting footnote related to MOH, is a recent piece by Grant’s writing partner, Matthew Richer, which outlined many of the inconsistencies concerning the Cobain story, including the financial relationship made between Cobain’s family and Love after the iconic musician’s death, coupled with a review of the film.
‘Eyes Open’ – Benjamin Statler (middle) along with Tom Grant (right), Daniel Roebuck and Sarah Scott on the set of Soaked In Bleach. (Photo link twitter.com)
Here at 21WIRE, we recently had an opportunity to discuss ‘Soaked In Bleach’ with director Benjamin Statler in an exclusive Q & A – the filmmaker shared his motivation and inspiration for the film, as well the inclusion of preeminent field experts weighing in on the Cobain case, in addition to a brief critique of the documentary Montage of Heck…
What was your primary motivation for making the film Soaked in Bleach?
Benjamin Statler: “My main motivation for this project has become three-fold.”
“The initial motivation was always for the world and especially Kurt’s fans and loved ones to know the truth concerning the facts and details surrounding the manner of Kurt’s death. I want to vindicate Kurt.”
“My second motivation came about after much research. The more I learned the more I began to desire to vindicate Tom Grant. Here was a man, who in the face of years of persecution and false accusations took a stand for truth and justice.”
“And finally, the third motivating theme in this movie has to do with the reality of media manipulation. A lot of people have strong opinions and emotions about Kurt’s death. Some people agree with my opinion about how Kurt died and some people disagree.”
“I don’t mind someone disagreeing with me. What bothers me intensely is when their opinion is being based on misinformation. Countless times, when I’ve had people tell me they think it was a suicide, after I ask them why, they rattle off the same old fallacies that have been proven untrue for years.”
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but I also believe everybody deserves the truth on which to base their opinion. What I hope people will take from Soaked In Bleach is the importance of researching things and to not be so quick to let the media mold our views.”
Statler explained he learned of Tom Grant from the feature documentary Kurt & Courtney by Nick Broomfield from 1998. He then looked at the compelling information on Grant’s website regarding the Cobain case, discussing the concept for Soaked In Bleach in 2011 with Grant, later hiring him as a consultant for the film.
Some of the most qualified forensic experts who appear in the film were contacted in the summer of 2013. When asked about the appearance of forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, as well as former Chief of Police for the SPD, Norm Stamper, Statler expressed his gratitude and the fact that he didn’t know what either of them would say about the case before shooting.
Benjamin Statler: “It was an honor to have both of them participate with the movie. It was already exciting when they said yes to being interviewed, but of course we didn’t know what they would actually say or share for the camera. We were certainly not let down with either of these interviews!”
Do you feel that this film will help re-open Cobain’s death investigation?
“Ultimately, yes. The goal of this film was to raise enough awareness worldwide about the need for the findings of Kurt Cobain’s death to be rightfully changed from suicide to undetermined. I believe that if the SPD changed the findings to undetermined the world would demand the case to be re-opened.”
Statler also revealed that during the process of making SIB, there were some emotionally challenging moments, particularly the recreation of the greenhouse scene depicting a deceased Cobain. He then outlined the most important forensic details in the Cobain case – that prove that the case should be re-opened as a homicide investigation.
Benjamin Statler: “The blood morphine level. The positioning of the shotgun and expelled shell. The last four lines of the “suicide note” which seem like completely different handwriting from the body of the note.”
“The gross discrepancy between the actual facts of the case and what was reported and what continues to be reported by the media. Almost everything I was told by the media about Kurt’s death contradicted the facts. Where did this misinformation come from and why was it being planted in the media?”
What were some of the influences that inspired the look and feel of Soaked in Bleach?
Benjamin Statler: “For the recreations, I always wanted a noir look with the elements of shadows and light shining into darkness. Aesthetically, that’s one of my favorite looks and thematically it seemed very appropriate for this movie.”
“For the interviews with the forensic experts, I first realized I wanted the look of water running down glass for the background when I saw this feature at a sushi restaurant in Marina Del Rey. I later realized that the inside of the greenhouse recreation would naturally provide this background, so it just sort of came to together.”
How have people in Hollywood and the music industry responded to your film and its message?
Benjamin Statler: “I haven’t yet gotten much feedback from the music industry as the film hasn’t yet been seen by many in that industry unless you would count the articles in certain magazines written by people who hadn’t yet seen the film. I’m more interested in the feedback from the journalists who have actually seen the film. The feedback I’ve gotten from the couple of journalists who actually saw the movie has been very positive.”
“It was interesting how the feedback from Hollywood was quite different from the feedback from foreign territories. In Hollywood I would hear about certain people being really excited about the movie and then radio silence, no real distribution offers for months after they had first viewed the screeners. For foreign territories, after it had been screened one time at the market in Berlin the movie had multiple offers for theatrical deals involving 10 different countries within days from when it was first screened to them.”
How did you feel about the Courtney Love endorsed documentary Montage of Heck?
“As a huge fan of Kurt’s I really appreciated getting to see the new footage of Kurt that I had never seen before. I found it interesting that Brett Morgen used the same type of animation that Richard Linklater used in one my favorite movies “Waking Life”. I was originally considering using this type of animation to accommodate the visuals for Tom Grant’s audio recordings before I decided to go for it and do the actual live action recreations.”
What do you see as the next phase for anyone concerned about this case – now that Soaked In Bleach has been released?
“Spread the word as much as possible. Soaked In Bleach was always intended to be a tool to help get the facts concerning this case to as broad of an audience as possible in order to get the attention of the SPD concerning the need for a just investigation.”
Only time will tell if Soaked In Bleach will spark calls to reopen the Cobain case, as the film’s inclusion of key forensic evidence is sure to shock the masses.
Below is the most recent Soaked In Bleach trailer, an Emerging Pictures release playing in select theaters as well as Vimeo on June 11th…