"I believe beyond any shadow of a doubt the case will be reopened one way or another."
If you've seen Montage Of Heck, the Brett Morgen-directed Kurt Cobain documentary co-executive produced by the late subject's only daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, Soaked In Bleach makes for an interesting compare and contrast exercise. Soaked In Bleach's director Benjamin Statler laughs, "More contrasting than comparing perhaps?" There are definitely a couple of points that are constantly revisited in ...Heck. "Yeah that's one way to put it," the director interjects. "Could be 'fabricated' perhaps?" One of these is Cobain's chronic stomach pain, which we learn during Soaked In Bleach that the Nirvana singer managed to overcome. There's interview footage of Cobain in MTV's Nirvana: Past Present Future where he's asked: How's your stomach? "I've finally been prescribed the right stomach medicine after six years of being in constant pain and finally I haven't had a stomach problem for over a year, yeah," Cobain replies. At the time of his death, Statler explains, "It had been over a year he'd been over that one. We know he was working at getting over his heroin addiction as well. We know that he said he was the happiest he'd ever been in January of '94, with Frances Bean the love of his life. He had a vision for his music career."
"We know that he said he was the happiest he'd ever been in January of '94, with Frances Bean the love of his life."
Statler's docudrama is narrated by retired private investigator and former LA County Sheriff's detective Tom Grant, who was hired by Courtney Love as a private detective to track down Cobain just days before his body was found at their Seattle home. The first time Statler "discovered Tom's website [cobaincase.com]", he admits, "It was really intense for me and here was this mountain of objective facts about Kurt Cobain's death and, meanwhile, the mainstream just totally contradicted it."
Following his investigation, Grant wasn't so sure Cobain had taken his own life and the following is posted on his website: "Courtney Love and Michael Dewitt (the male nanny who lived at the Cobain residence) were involved in a conspiracy that resulted in the murder of Kurt Cobain." After Grant went public with his website, he felt encouraged after a girl got in touch with him to share her story. "She wrote him to tell him that she was about to commit suicide before she found his website, so it literally saved her life," Statler tells, "and that was a key point for Tom because all he got before her was total backlash — basically people attacking him — and it was really hard for him. But when he got that feedback from her, it became totally worth it; no question in his mind at that point, you know?
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"It was miraculous during the making of Soaked In Bleach — we were on set when the greenhouse recreation was going back up. It was a little emotional and Tom and I were talking and he was thinking, reflecting on that again: that moment, almost 20 years prior, when that girl had first written him. And I was walking around Red Studios and I got a call from Tom, who was on the other side of the lot and he said, 'Ben, you gotta get over here. You're not gonna believe this.' So I go back and Danny Roebuck who played Tom [in Soaked In Bleach] had been in a Starbucks and he was telling people about what he was doing. This girl at Starbucks randomly overheard him and approached him and said, 'I'm sorry, excuse me, what'd you say you were doing?' And it ended up — I'm getting chills now — it was the girl who had written Tom... Danny brought her to the set and we got a photo taken with her and then she was at the premiere of the movie. So there she was, 20 years later, alive and well. And she still is."
Remarkably, Grant was totally unaware of Cobain's legendary status was when Love hired him and Statler agrees the story could've been vastly different had he been a fan. "That's a good point," he allows. "I mean if there was someone who had been mesmerised by Courtney Love in '94, which could have been the case with many people that she might have hired, um, you know, you might've had someone who fed from her hand and didn't look beyond anything they were being shown or told. And with Tom Grant he had an exception to that; you had a guy who just wasn't fazed by all of that and just didn't care about all of that and he cared about the truth, basically. And so when he saw contradictions from the beginning, you know, he began recording everything."
One thing that strikes you while chatting with Statler is that he's obviously a Nirvana fan. "Kurt's like my favourite artist of all time," he states. When asked whether he remembers where he was when he found out Cobain was dead, Statler says, "I remember the moment very vividly, yeah; that's a moment I'll never forget. I was alone in my apartment in college when Kurt Loder came on TV and it's like everything just kind of froze — you know, all at once — and I didn't wanna believe what I was hearing." Statler was 20 years old at this time, "a pretty intense, dark cloud" descended on him and he goes so far as to say, "Fortunately I was not one of those copycats that we mention in the movie." What Statler's referring to is a disturbing stat that's presented in Soaked In Bleach: the amount of recorded Cobain copycat suicides, "Which is 68, that we know of," Statler tells. "That's [suicide] notes that we know of, that were found. And what's interesting too — and very sad — is that a lot of the experts who deal with that kind of thing, they say that it's probably 15 to 20% of suicides that leave a note. So if you factor that into the equation, you're probably looking at, you know, 300 to 400 copycats, which is just unthinkable. I mean ONE is unthinkable... There's a lot of Canadians for some reason, just the percentage of [copycat suicides] that were Canadian is really high and people were just very impacted by Kurt."
"There's a lot of Canadians for some reason, just the percentage of [copycat suicides] that were Canadian is really high."
It was these copycat suicides, Statler believes, that prompted Grant to "take a stand for the truth". "Tom moved away from LA so that he could be near his family, he's all about his family," Statler details. "He loves his grandchildren, and he has a great granddaughter as well that he just loves, and when you mention his grandkids that's when he lights up. He just loves children so much and that was all the more reason why: when the copycat suicides began to happen, that was not something he could walk away from; when he realised that was a reality. He loves kids too much and he hates hearing of that."
Although the movie didn't go into pre-production until "May first of 2013", Statler stresses, "I was envisioning this, I was impassioned to do this from the time I'd set my mind to pursue film full-time. But I was hoping that a project like this would be done before I knew I'd be doing it — many years before that."
When asked whether there was anyone Statler contacted that he would've liked to feature in Soaked In Bleak, but who refused, he laughingly admits, "Courtney Love... I invited her. She didn't respond, actually. Well, she didn't respond until her attorney sent me cease and desist letters in 2014 after I released the first trailer." When Soaked In Bleach was being released, Love also sent cease and desist letters to the distributors and then "to every theatre that showed the movie". "So I haven't heard anything since and there was never follow-up on any of those threats," Statler continues. "And same with the previous 20 years... From the time he first went public, anybody that gave Tom a platform — a radio show et cetera — every time that platform would get threatened by her cadre of attorneys, but never once did they follow through. And he promised them that they won't, because he knows that they know that if they follow through and sue something that Tom Grant is party to he gets to put Courtney on the stand to post her in court. And that's just as powerful as reopening the case. And that's why he wants her to sue him."
Although Love's cease and desist letters largely fell on deaf ears, there was one cinema that pulled Soaked In Bleach. "It was the Hollywood Theatre in Los Angeles," Statler clarifies. He sounds justifiably disappointed, adding, "I received some bizarre texts myself and various threats, but I'm just not [laughs] basing my life decision on cowards who have to hide and make these veiled threats; it's just ridiculous to me. I refuse to bow to that stuff."
Statler also would've loved to "get a hold of" entertainment lawyer Rosemary Carroll. "I couldn't find a contact for her at the time," he laments. "I also would've loved to have talked with Dylan [Carlson]; I had a mutual friend of his and it didn't work out. At the time I heard that he was playing with Duff McKagan and some other people and that didn't follow through. He's Kurt's best friend... When I speak to Tom he definitely does not believe that Dylan was a part of [it]. He was extremely addicted to heroin, so we know — it seems to me that Kurt, you know, was helping with that; they did their heroin together and, of course, Kurt had the financial means for that to happen. So when Kurt died, Dylan had to have his heroin and, of course, another person that could provide for that was Courtney, so..."
"I wanted to make sure I was being very careful that I didn't misrepresent anything in that way..."
There's a section in Soaked In Bleach that explains how hard it is for people to unlearn what Statler defines as "this false reality" created by the media. "People want to hold on to that," he elaborates. "And I've experienced it here over the years. When I envisioned this movie and was sharing with people what I wanted to do, I got reactions from people that were almost angry at me, you know, 'Leave it alone. It was suicide'," he laughs in disbelief. "And you ask them why they believe that and of course they always just spout off all the misinformation they were told, which you can show is just blatantly false.
"Even more broadly beyond this particular investigation, there's things that we need to face and deal with and get to the bottom of and, I think, unfortunately when things are painful to look at — you know, emotionally and otherwise — some people prefer to look away. And it's, like, here we can show them the actual audio recordings of the conversations that happened with these key people and sometimes people look away — it's amazin'. And they'll listen to someone who's known to never tell the truth. And then when you have someone who's known to have a stellar reputation for telling the truth and standing only on objective facts, they react to that. It's really a bizarre thing to watch." Now that his movie is out, Statler reports that of the many viewers who previously believed strongly that Cobain took his own life, "countless thousands" have responded, saying, "Mind blown". "It changed their mind," Statler concludes, "and, of course, they're telling more and more people, so — and with all that being said, I'm ultimately very encouraged with the direction things are going."
So does Grant ultimately feel satisfied with the final product? "Yeah, I think so," Statler ponders. "I think he was pleased with the movie. And he was a consultant, you know, I checked with him with all the facts in the investigation — that aspect of it; you know, I wanted to make sure I was being very careful that I didn't misrepresent anything in that way so, yeah! I think he appreciated that. I think he's appreciated anything that helps get this truth out to the broader audience."
When Statler "showed people [his] vision" for Soaked In Bleach, he was warned against making the film ("people warning me of my financial, legal and even physical wellbeing, but I just chose to not follow fear"). He came up against "a lot of resistance in a lot of ways". "But there were always breadcrumbs that encouraged me, 'I'm on the right path. This is absolutely meant to be'," he stresses.
Soaked In Bleach presents a convincing argument for Cobain's death to be reinvestigated. Does Statler think this is a possibility? "I do. I firmly do," he opines. "I believe beyond any shadow of a doubt the case will be reopened one way or another. I mean, I'm watching the wall come down, brick by brick... I've heard through the grapevine of some key A-list people who would be very powerful if they would speak up. I'm watching by the thousands, you know, fans who believed strongly in [Cobain's] suicide and their mind has now been changed, and of course they're telling people. So it's only continually multiplying. There's been strong attempts by detractors to suppress this movie, but I laugh at the futility of it because, haha, it's multiplying like rapid fire, you know, wild fire, so I'm very encouraged. I knew that it wasn't gonna be like, 'The movie's released on June 11th and the case is reopened on June 18th'. I knew it was gonna take a while. I knew it would be an uphill climb but, you know, we are reaching the top of the mountain very quickly."
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