Benjamin Statler is as bold a director of docudrama as can get. With his film Soaked In Bleach, he not only poses the hypothesis that Kurt Cobain’s death was a homicide and not a suicide but begs the question – in not so many words – ‘Will a tough authority body like the Seattle Police Department ever admit it was wrong in such a prominent case?’
Interview by Antonino Tati
I’m guessing the making of this film has taken up the better part of your life over the past few years, Ben, but when did you actually decide to make a film about the last days of Kurt Cobain and why?
It’s been a pretty consuming project, for sure. When I first discovered Tom Grant’s website cobaincase.com I was longing to see this mountain of objective facts about Kurt Cobain’s death to become known in the mainstream. I learned about Tom Grant through Nick Broomfield’s movie Kurt & Courtney which I saw around 1998. I discovered Tom’s website shortly after I saw Nick’s movie.
I must say, your film is very artfully made, from the clarity of the sequence of news quotes in the opening, right into the first re-enactment of the dark and dreary night before Kurt’s death… As a docudrama, were there moments in the making of it where you thought, hang on a minute, there’s a little too much drama being presented here and I need to pull back and make it more documentary-like?
No, not at all. Docudrama is certainly the appropriate genre name for this film. The documentary part – the interviews with the world’s most qualified forensic experts – was meant to serve the purpose of objectively addressing the key elements in the investigation around Kurt’s death. The dramatic recreations were meant to flesh out the context of how Tom Grant’s investigation played out as he dealt with Courtney Love, Dylan Carlson, Rosemary Carroll, and the Seattle Police Department. We based the dialogue of these recreations very tightly to the actual audio recordings and other artefacts collected from Tom Grant’s investigation.
The gist of the film is that the death of Kurt Cobain could have been designed to look like a suicide when it might actually have been a homicide. When did you – as a follower of pop culture – begin entertaining this theory?
Nick Broomfield’s movie got my attention, but I actually didn’t begin to seriously entertain the theory until I dove into Tom Grant’s website.
What would be one or more motives for an individual or party to want to see Kurt Cobain dead?
The film details the events leading up to Kurt’s death, but as seen through the perspective of Tom Grant, the private detective hired by Courtney Love to find Cobain shortly before he was found dead. Do you think viewers might be concerned of any bias or distrust in Grant’s perspective? After all, he was initially paid by Love to start with…
I appreciated Tom being available to share his perspective. I believe most people will appreciate that his perspective has always been backed by actual audio recordings and now the perspectives of the most qualified forensic experts in the world. I invited Courtney Love to be interviewed for the film and to share her perspective. She never responded to the invitation.
Did Courtney or her lawyers try to stop you from making this film? Were there any notices of cease-and-desist coming directly from them to you?
Yes. I received cease and desist letters from Courtney Love’s lawyers after I released the first trailer for Soaked In Bleach in April of 2014.
A fair amount of documentary footage, as well as interview footage with people associated with the case, have been incorporated into the film. Was it difficult getting clearance to use this footage?
Legal rights and clearances [were] certainly a big part of making this film.
Do you think the film has had fair critique on citizen journalist review sites such as Rotten Tomatoes? I hear that there have been attempts by certain parties to sabotage its reputation with low scores being given even before the film had been viewed?
There was an article on Reddit addressing how ratings sabotage for Soaked In Bleach was the most blatant ever. IMDb had about 1,000 votes of 1 out of 10 before the movie was even released. I believe for the user ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes the problem was addressed and all of the fake votes that didn’t even have real emails were deleted. As for the critics ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, I have to say I find it very unprofessional and irresponsible that they would let reviews count that don’t even mention the world-renowned forensic experts which make up about 50% of the film, much less the actual conclusion of the movie which is simply that the Kurt Cobain death investigation needs to be reopened.
Who would want to hide the message that this film is trying to portray, and why would they be wanting to hide this information?
Let’s all furrow our brows and rub our chins and think really hard.
Suffice to say, the Seattle Police Department might be embarrassed to have to revisit the case again. With an authority body such as the SPD, which has a reputation of being brutally forceful, were you ever paranoid in the making of this film; that someone might be after your head?
Through the years I was warned by various people to be careful based on the history of certain people. I’m not paranoid though.
Would you say the bottom line of the film is that is suggests a re-opening of the investigation into Kurt Cobain’s death?
Finally, what other music documentaries would you consider Soaked In Bleach to be in good company of; documentary films that you’ve admired that you feel are similar to it?
I can appreciate the tendency to categorise Soaked In Bleach as a music documentary as it involves Kurt Cobain, however, in truth, it’s an investigative docudrama. Some of my favourite documentaries that have influenced and inspired me are Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, Inside Job, Searching For Sugar Man, The Imposter, The Fog Of War, and more recently Citizenfour.
‘Soaked In Bleach’ is available on DVD through Shock Entertainment.
Cream has 10 copies on DVD to give away. To try winning one, simply tell us your favourite Nirvana song in the Comments section, below. Competition closes Friday 16th October.
Picture, above, director of ‘Soaked In Bleach’, Benjamin Statler.