Film Reviews

Cobain Conspiracy Doc Soaked in Bleach Could Use a Shave with Occam's Razor

How convinced you'll be by Soaked in Bleach, the latest vehicle for the Kurt-was-murdered theory the private investigator Tom Grant has now megaphoned for two decades, will hinge on how plausible you find its portrait of the Nirvana frontman approaching his end. The film insists that Cobain, far from the version peddled by a hoodwinked mainstream media, was by this point actually rather a sunny, contented optimist. Never mind the great howl-at-the-void that was his recorded output, the alarming frequency with which he mentioned or journaled about suicide — oh, and the heroin. (Plenty of sunny, contented optimists have $400-a-day smack habits, no?)

Soaked trots out a parade of interviewees and old sources to confirm as much — among them the singer/fellow user/friend Dylan Carlson, whom the film otherwise discredits at every turn — seemingly unaware of the power with which its own imagery undercuts its effort: Take the clip of Kurt, in a late interview, talking about growing old and eschewing grunge in favor of the acoustic singer-songwriter mold ("like Johnny Cash or something"). See? the film means to say: Not suicidal at all! And yet just look at his eyes, as frightened and pained as in that famous haunting moment near the end of the Unplugged performance of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," giving the lie to that impossible fantasy.

Apart from that, Soaked in Bleach points up all the expected old hat, most of it aimed squarely at Courtney Love. Grant says he became suspicious of her immediately after she'd hired him — he duly began recording their every conversation. The film includes much of that audio among its mash-up of present-day interviews and sub-Unsolved Mysteries re-enactments, all of it passably well edited.

The problem is, when facing down Love and Cobain's outsize, junked-up personalities, Grant seems a total naïf. That a solipsistic rock star like Love might be given to haughty, can't-believe-the-gall pronouncements — and that addicts might tend to have issues with the truth — strikes the P.I. not as characteristic of the type, but as indicative of some grand nefarious scheme.

Soaked, of course, spins all this to present Grant as the incorruptible Boy Scout, burnishing his credibility via an early rundown of his credentials, but here again the doc steps all over its own argument: In this case, at least, Grant would appear not to have reserved judgment, as he insists is his m.o., when confronted with Love's notoriously erratic mien. What follows looks an awful lot like your classic case of confirmation bias. (You could probably make a drinking game out of the number of times Grant seems at a loss to explain a bit of behavior that anyone with even a cursory understanding of such stuff would know to be a junkie hallmark — and then, rather than dismissing it as probably just that, instead folds it in to his foul-play narrative.) Courtney Love may not be a saint, which will come as a shock to no one, but the doped flakiness, the preening narcissism, the cynical calculation, even the media manipulation on view from her in Soaked in Bleach — these, still, do not a murderer make.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mike Laws
Contact: Mike Laws