Feature Article by Mary Boukouvalas
Soaked In Bleach is Benjamin Statler’s directorial debut, yet Hollywood is definitely not his scene. Statler states: “I’m actually moving back to south western Pennsylvania, the movie scene is really starting to thrive in Pittsburgh, and it’s just like authentic, down to earth, people”. This desire to surround himself in genuineness also resembles his quest for the truth about Kurt Cobain’s demise.
Soaked In Bleach is a docudrama. Of the film structure itself, Statler states: “I personally wish the docudrama became it’s own genre. We have feature films and documentaries right now. To me, the potential for the docudrama is so great and it’s just not being used properly. ‘Has that not been done before?’ was the question I got when I mentioned a doc about the truth about Kurt Cobain’s death. Along with their reaction to a docudrama: ‘Won’t that be cheesy?’ And that idea comes from recreations and things like that. I feel like it can be done on a whole different level than it has been done before and I’m hoping that Soaked In Bleach will demonstrate that to people”.
Certainly the structure of this film is more comprehensive than other docudramas. It incorporates interviews, reenactments, audio recordings, text, and animation. The way these features are assembled is where this film stands apart from others. The timeline is set; the flow of ideas, visuals, audio and investigation connect, creating pace and tension without clichés. Content and editing, as well as order, account for this. Statler surrounded himself with some of the best. He states: “The editing was by Javier Alvarez and David Moritz, who were brilliant. David was more of a veteran who I brought on second only because I’m a first-time director and I wanted to make sure I had all the experience there in the post. Javier, who was on first, he turned out to be a gift; he was amazing, very talented, very hard worker, very dedicated, spent a lot of time on this movie, so amazing”.
As for the content of the film, Statler found it difficult to cut parts out but always kept in mind his film’s intention and audience. Statler states, “Hands down that was the most difficult, seeing what to include and what to let go. It was torturous. I thank God for the Internet because a lot of the time I would deliver my notes to the editor and we would try something and, though I had the final decision to keep it where we did, there were so many important things that I was married to and even though I said, ‘Let’s try and take it out’, I would watch it at home and then I’d watch it again and hold my breath before I’d kick some furniture around. Then I’d watch it again and then I could finally say okay. But it was great that I was able to go through that process alone; that’s the miracle of the Internet”. Statler resolves: “The relief is that we’re working to get clearance for the deleted scenes so there will be a special edition of the DVD hopefully by the end of the holidays”. For now, this film does reach a more mainstream audience and does serve its purpose in contradicting the media, and police, reports and illuminating the need to have Cobain’s case reopened.
Statler was motivated by this purpose, and by his passion for the content. He recalls the influence Cobain had. “Well obviously,” he begins, “I’m a huge Nirvana fan. Kurt is pretty much my favorite artist of all time. I like rock primarily. I like some rap, hip-hop, country music. I like a broad variety of music, but definitely rock. I do (remember when I first heard Nirvana), that was my first year of College when Smells Like Teen Spirit first came out and like pretty much everybody was like ‘what is this’, ‘what is this new sound’, and then I learnt about him, and how he sang and played guitar and was doing all of that, which was kind of mind blowing”.
Statler continues, “I remember the moment (hearing of Cobain’s death) very vividly. I was in my apartment at College and I felt like novacaine came down over me. Oh yeah. Yeah, it was very intense. I did (believe the media) at the time and it really struck me hard. I was 20 and I think for a lot of people that’s kind of a tough time, going through a lot of things, so when my poet hero –and I was told had made that choice- this guy I looked up to the way you did things for me and for a lot of people was something to hold onto when you were feeling the way he expressed”. [pullquote]It was kind of like having a life rope taken from you basically. Fortunately I had enough things to hold on to that I didn’t respond the way that at least 68 kids that we know of who did copycat suicides. But it left a dark cloud over my head. I feel like I’m one of millions that it did that too.” [/pullquote]
Media misinformation seems to have swayed judgement. Statler continued to believe the reports until he saw Nick Broomfield’s film Kurt & Courtney. “I recall seeing it on the shelf at Blockbuster as a new release. There were things that impacted me – the interview with the nanny, the things that El Duce said. Not that he is the most credible person but the fact that I learnt he had taken a polygraph from the most renowned polygraph examiner on the planet and passed with flying colours. That was quite sobering. And it wasn’t long after that I looked up Tom Grant on the Internet and that was the true genesis, and Mark I of Soaked In Bleach, when I discovered cobaincase.com. And the one thing that actually sparked me in re-watching it later and after going to cobaincase.com and learning the objective facts, I was frustrated with the misinformation that happened with Dr Brewer, which we have addressed in my movie. I was actually disturbed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for Kurt & Courtney, I mean it sparked me. And I actually had the pleasure of meeting Nick Bloomfield and he seemed like a great guy and I’m thankful for what he did but that particular part of the movie served as a motivator, it kind of put a fire in my belly because that was one of the most objective points of the investigation, they kind of buried it in that movie with misinformation. They said that a guy standing on one foot, on methadone, fifteen minutes later was kind of proof that Tom Grant’s assertions were wrong, which is ridiculous as we point out and had no relevance to intravenous heroin. It was a huge point. [pullquote]The blood morphine level and the positioning of the spent shot gun shell – that’s two points, where in order to believe the suicide narrative that we were basically force-fed by the media, we’re required to defy the laws of science in both biochemistry and physics.[/pullquote] If people want to believe (the media), that’s their option but I’m interested in facts not the misinformation”.
Statler wanted to set things straight, and Soaked In Bleach delivers the facts through evidence and expert statements. He states. “It wasn’t scripted at all. With Norm Stamper (retired Seattle Police Chief), we knew it the night before, he actually volunteered what he would say on camera; that he would have the case reopened today. So at that point, it was unexpected. It was exhilarating, me and my group were high-fiving. If the Seattle Police Department were to change the cause of Kurt’s death from suicide to undetermined, the world would not let it rest until Kurt’s death was given a fair investigation. We were just so thankful for Norm and what an awesome, honest, humble guy he is”.
Statler continues: “Dr Wecht (former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science) confirmed what we thought so that was exciting, him being one of the top forensics pathologists. He got pretty fervent in the movie as you saw. We didn’t know what to expect but it was just exciting that he confirmed what we believed. And had his experience to back it up”.
Even with all the facts, the reception of the film was inconsistent. Statler states: “The first word that comes to my mind is gross disparity; I’m speaking of the difference between the people who watched it and the ‘professional reviewers’. I have never seen frankly, and call me biased, such an amazing amount of positive reviews from the people and the fans who have watched it. I mean there’s countless people who have written short books on it about how it was the best doc ever, it blew them away, most important doc of the year etc etc. and then you look at the professional critics from Rotten Tomatoes, which gives like a 30%, and you read their reviews and they’re still the professional critics and the one main guy he doesn’t even mention any of the forensic experts we have which makes up 50% of the movie, and then he doesn’t even mention the conclusion. I just don’t buy it personally”.
Regardless of differing opinions, Statler knew that his message would find light of day. [pullquote]“The primary message of this movie is that the justice of a fair investigation which was due to Kurt had been soiled with gross negligence, doused in mud, and this botching of the investigation had been whitewashed with misinformation which continues to this day by the media, it was soaked in bleach.”[/pullquote]
However, Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, had her lawyers serve Cease & Desist letters. Statler was unperturbed. He explains: “I don’t know if she had actually watched it herself but what I do know is that I invited her to be interviewed for the film in 2013 and she never responded; I never heard from her until her attorney sent me the cease-and-desist letters shortly after I released the first trailer in 2014. I was not shocked. I was fully expecting it, based on the past 20 years. Every time someone has given Tom Grant a platform, every time her attorneys have threatened them. But every time they’ve never followed through. And Tom has always promised that because he knows that they know that if they sue with Tom being party to it that he gets to put her on the stand, to depose her, which is just as powerful as reopening the case. He actually wants her to sue. That’s his goal”. Unlike the Common Law legal system in Australia, England and Wales, US civil law allows for cross-examination before the trial in the form of Depositions. Common Law only allows for Witness Statements. Thus the danger of Love suing becomes apparent.
Though not shocked at Love’s actions. Statler was thrown by the communication from Cobain and Love’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. “I received a legal letter from her attorneys as well which was confusing because I guess the claim was that such a thing could be emotionally traumatizing. My reason for confusion on that is, in my movie where concerning her, we show photos of Kurt lovingly holding her before and after, when he is choosing to get rehab from heroin, where as the movie she has executive producer credit on (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck), it’s a video of him basically passing out on heroin while he holds her. It’s a little confusing. It doesn’t really make sense to me at all”.
What does make sense is Statler’s respect for Tom Grant. He states: “I first called him in 2011. We talked a bit on the phone and met in person. I picked his brain for countless hours and got to know him as a person. I had a good feeling about him from the website and the way I saw he handled things. When I met him in person, I was not let down one bit. I was actually impressed all the more, just to learn about him, what he was all about, and how he was first and foremost a family man. He’s got a great granddaughter now, and he’s all about the grandkids, very much the opposite of some of the pictures people try to portray him: as this obsessed conspiracy kook. He couldn’t be further from that. He’s actually the opposite of the spectrum of the typical conspiracy kooks, as they call them. He really wants to be free for his family. He’s excited that other experts have spoken up now. He wants them to take centre stage on this”.
Statler continues, “Since making the movie, a very important person has stepped forward and there’s things like that that I’m not permitted to speak about yet. It’s also very encouraging to me. [pullquote]I do believe the case will be reopened because brick by brick this wall is coming down.[/pullquote]
We’re progressively being emboldened by these people who know things, and also we have seen somewhat of a turnaround with the US press. I hear some things too on the grapevine about some key A-list celebrity people, I know a number of them that believe it was a homicide. I just think it’s going to be a matter of time before enough of them know that there is enough other ones and they won’t be allowed alone speaking out”. [pullquote]“That’s getting into speculation and I have my opinion and my opinion is probably pretty obvious from the movie. I’m not trying to sidestep it. It’s just that I truly feel strongly about sticking to the objective of the film and that is that the case should be reinvestigated.”[/pullquote]
True to his word, Statler has kept to the facts. Soaked In Bleach is an honest search for the truth. It is the first in a trilogy of docudramas to be produced under Statler’s production company, Montani Productions. “First in the trilogy”, Statler concludes. “Yeah that’s my goal. There are two more that are equally intense. They are also docudramas and each has a Tom Grant equivalent. They’re major groundbreaking revelations basically on major themes”.
SOAKED IN BLEACH was released in U.S.cinemas earlier this year.
It is available for the very first time in Australia through Shock Entertainment on October 7th.
 El Duce claimed that Courtney Love offered to pay him $50,000 to kill Kurt Cobain.