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There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Soaked In Bleach, which is streaming over on Hulu.
While this column is ostensibly a guide to things that you should watch, sometimes a few caveats are needed. Last week’s Insane Clown Posse Shockumentary recommendation is a great example of a film that is ultimately worth your time but I think the key is in approaching it in the right light. This week's entry, Benjamin Statler’s Soaked in Bleach, is also going to be in that realm of film because the means by which Kurt Cobain’s life came to an end is apparently still up in the air for a certain percentage of conspiracy theorists, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary. Bear with me though, because even though it’s offensively wrong on pretty much every level, I think there’s still some value in it.
Elvis is alive. "Paul is dead." Tupac is smoking cigars on an island. The history of music is full of entertaining enough thought experiments to play around in, like trying to find satanic messages backmasked into Judas Priest records or trying to decipher the lyrics to “Louie Louie” lyrics when it’s played forward at regular speed. Even though they’re interesting to contemplate, at the end of the day all these goofy possibilities simply fall apart in the cold light of day. It’s with that level of skepticism that I approached Soaked In Bleach, which takes the firm stance that Courtney Love was somehow involved in the murder and cover up of the death of Kurt Cobain.
I came of age right when Nirvana was peaking and have a clear memory of Kurt Loder interrupting MTV to inform the world that Kurt had killed himself. I remember the copycat suicides. I remember debates across generational divides in my family as to whether he was a tortured genius or little more than a pitiable addict. I remember the pain that I and my friends felt and cannot even contemplate the pain that his loved ones felt. For me, the thought experiment built into this Courtney as killer theory is not “did she do it?” since (I have no doubt) she did NOT do it, even when confronted with whatever evidence there might be, but instead I wonder “Why do we have to go looking for an alternate when there’s so much evidence to the contrary?” To dredge all this back up does little more than to cause further grief for those closest to him. Kurt was a depressive addict with excruciatingly painful and stomach ulcers who was profoundly overwhelmed by the level of fame and responsibility that had seemingly found its way to his doorstep. It’s sadly not hard at all to connect the dots to why things went the way they did, and yet.
The evidence that’s presented in the doc is primarily built on the testimony of Tom Grant, a private investigator who was hired by Courtney Love to help find Kurt not long before his body was found. I’m not going to belabor point by point the flimsy arguments that the film makes, but I will say that they give way too much credit to the placement of a shotgun shell casing which results in a “back... and to the left” style forward and reversing computer generated replication of the moment Kurt pulled the trigger that left me speechless. The main argument, which is explored in great detail, hinges on the fact that Kurt apparently had enough heroin in his blood to have incapacitated him to the point of being unable to have done himself in. To that, I’ll just toss this 2004 Swiss national cohort study that says the mean daily dosage for their addicts was “474 mg for intravenous application” which is a number that sounds not at all unreasonable for a long term addict like Kurt who was dropping $400 a day on good quality shit.
The film’s reenactments are hilariously bad. Lunky-looking character actor Daniel Roebuck plays the role of Tom Grant and Sarah Scott is the waifish woman who was cast as Courtney Love. Both of these leads not only look nothing like the real life individuals they are supposedly representing, but the dramatization of these supposed real life events comes off as over the top campy. Coupled with the misleading USA Today poll level CG visuals, the whole thing is clearly trying so hard to sell you on an overall cockamamie scheme that never adds up.
After saying all of that, should you watch this movie? Absolutely! But be incredibly wary of the bullshit it’s selling. The inexplicably gymnastical lengths that Benjamin Statler and company go through to convince you that Courtney Love had some hand in the death of her husband, either by commission or omission, are crazy. All this because... why? We would rather he was murdered? They wanna grab some cash on the coattails of (eventual Watch The Tunes entry) Montage Of Heck? Probably! Tom Grant wants to sell some more books? Very likely! Check this flick out, but while you’re watching it instead of asking whether it was a suicide or a murder (it was a suicide) spend the time asking yourself why anyone would want it to be one instead of the other.
Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.
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