Kurt Cobain

[Docudrama] Soaked in Bleach (2015)

I have been on a Kurt Cobain film kick lately, but this is my last post for now. In case you missed my other three posts on Kurt films, check them out:

Kurt and Courtney

Last Days

Montage of Heck

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Soaked in Bleach is a film I had never heard of until one day I was reading a thread on Reddit that talked about conspiracy flicks (that site is always a fun source…). I checked out the trailer and it sucked me in right away.

In the Spring of 1994, Tom Grant, a Private Investigator, was hired by Courtney Love to locate her husband, Kurt Cobain, who had gone missing shortly following his escape from a rehab centre he was in for heroin addiction. This film documents, in Grant’s own words, the play-by-play of his dealings with Courtney during this period, as well as Kurt’s best friend Dylan who helped Grant gain access to Kurt’s home to search for clues of Kurt’s whereabouts. The whole film seeks to prove that Kurt’s suicide was a murder, and tries mightily to implicate Courtney in the murder.

Soaked in Bleach is a docu-drama; real-life interviews are juxtaposed with lookalike actors used to reinact Grant’s experiences. Because Grant tape-recorded all his conversations with Courtney, the film was able to fashion a somewhat hokey, yet drama-filled story that reminded me of a TV movie. Let me tell you, this film is engrossing…For all the films I have watched on Kurt Cobain recently, and some addressing the possibility that Kurt’s suicide could have been a murder, Soaked in Bleach presents the strongest argument to that claim by picking apart the evidence at hand, including Kurt’s drug levels at death, the suicide note and even more morbid, looking into how Kurt was found holding the rifle he used to kill himself, complete with mockup and animation (not an easy watch). Grant has his own ideas of how things went down, and also a lot of questions that make him want someone in the Seattle Police Department to re-open the case. His questions are further supported by major strongholds in law enforcement and forensics, including the former SPD Police Chief, Norm Stamper, and high-profile Forensic Pathologist, Cyril Wecht.

Grant himself was once a very respected Los Angeles Police Officer, and later became a P.I., considered by many he worked with to have staunch integrity and a real nose for the truth. Grant comes off as egotistical, yet several character witnesses are interviewed in the film that corroborate his history and integrity. Of course, all this is used to bolster his case in an attempt to provide an impression that he is no flake.

But, I have to be honest here: although he brings up some interesting questions supporting his cause, I am not convinced Kurt was murdered, let alone by his wife. I only had to watch the way Grant told the story and how every actor on screen who was NOT Tom Grant acted guilty. No one person was above suspicion here – one might even think watching this film that Grant’s business partner murdered Cobain. At the same time, I have to remember, this story is being presented through the lens of a former police officer- an eye that naturally looks at everyone as suspicious from the start. If one were to listen to Courtney on those tapes, she sounds desperate, affected and coming down from a huge high. Was she able to plot a murder in that state? It’s possible, but in my opinion, doubtful. I have never been Courtney’s biggest fan, but being a drama queen does not a murderer make, and the evidence that attempts to implicate her just isn’t that strong, in my opinion.

The facts as we know them is that one of the most influencial musicians of the 20th Century is dead and the official word is suicide. Should Kurt Cobain’s case be re-opened? If there is any creedence to Grant’s suspicions, I think the truth has a way of worming out without Grant’s obvious witchhunt. Until then, I personally think we need to let Kurt rest in peace.

3.8 / 5

Soaked in Bleach
Dir. Benjamin Statler
2015

[Documentary] Kurt and Courtney (1998)

Kurtandcourtneydvd

I have been on a Kurt Cobain film-watching kick lately. In case you missed my last two posts on Kurt, check them out:

[Documentary] Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

[Film] Last Days

I remember when the documentary, Kurt & Courtney was released… It was March 1998, and I was living in North Bay, Ontario, attending college there. Down the street from where I lived was Video World – a movie rental place I frequented every weekend. It was a great place to rent all sorts of obscure films. For whatever reason, Kurt and Courtney caught my eye, but at the time I was completely burned out on Kurt Cobain’s story, and definitely on Courtney Love. I just didn’t care to watch this film.

Throw forward 15 years later, and my husband and I had a 30-day trial of Netflix. Being a doc junkie, I tried the best I could to get as many documentaries in as I possibly could before the trial ended. At this point, I had loosened my grip on that whole Kurt and Courtney thing and decided to tune in. I have since watched it again recently for this write-up.

Directed by and starring British journalist, Nick Broomfield, Kurt & Courtney follows Broomfield as he interviews people in Kurt Cobain’s life who knew him best, like his ex-girlfriend, Tracy, his best friend, Dylan, and his aunt, Mary, a musician herself, who fostered Kurt’s musical talent in a big way by allowing him to record using her equipment and musical instruments.

At the heart of the film, is the theory that Kurt did not commit suicide, but was murdered. There is the accusation that Courtney is partly responsible for Kurt’s death, either through collusion with someone who she paid to murder him, or as an accessory to his murder. This is brought forward by Courtney’s own father, Hank Harrison, who proudly vilifies his own daughter. He says he doesn’t know if Courtney is responsible, but believes Kurt was murdered, and suspects Courtney knows what happened. Another character, someone who went by the name El Duce, claims Courtney paid him $50,000 to have Kurt knocked off, but never went through with it. The film attempts to cast a shady light onto Courtney herself, who at this point in the timeline has totally changed her image from gutter punk to affected Hollywood starlet. In a brief guerrila-style interview in the film, Courtney is deflective, shifty and dismissive, refusing to answer any questions about anything (which was her right). Although the film brings up some interesting theories on Courtney, I am no further convinced that Kurt’s death wasn’t a suicide. But, then again, I think Broomfield had a hard time not being biased against Courtney. Evidence to this is demonstrated when Broomfield shared the challenges he faced in making Kurt & Courtney; you could definitely hear the disdain in his voice for Courtney from the get-go as she refused to license any Nirvana songs for his film. Further still, when she managed to sic some of her lawyers onto his film’s financial support system in an attempt to halt production, putting the whole documentary’s budget in jeopardy.

Broomfield produced an okay film here; I wouldn’t say Kurt & Courtney was the best film on Kurt, or the most interesting. The off-beat cast of characters in Kurt’s life moved the film along and brought some real humanity to such a tragic story.

3/5

Kurt and Courtney
Dir: Nick Broomfield
1998

[Film] Last Days (2005)

Being someone who creates and who is supportive of those who create, I sometimes find myself conflicted when I encounter a piece that rubs me the wrong way, or that downright turns me out. At the same time, my stint in Art School taught me that it’s okay not to like every painting, every installation, every work of cinema. But, it’s also important to look at art with a critical eye, good or bad. You don’t have to like every piece of art you see. Gus Van Sant’s films seem to conflict me in this way.

Case in point, Last Days; a Van Sant film from 2005 that was inspired by the last days of Kurt Cobain (this was even said in the credits), but this was very much a work of fiction (Van Sant’s words). Being a minimalist filmmaker, Van Sant chooses for the imagery to speak for itself. If the camera pans on a driveway for five minutes, that is supposed to say something. If it stares at an actor sitting on a log for five minutes, that also says something, or so I am made to think, as Gus Van Sant’s take on Cobain’s final days is full of scenes like this, where not much really happens. That said, not too many character-building details are revealed in Last Days, but enough clues are provided that your mind can fill in the gaps.

Cobain’s fictional doppelganger goes by the name of Blake, a guy with shaggy blonde hair who just escaped from rehab and returns home to his delapidated rock mansion where his loafing freeloading strung-out “friends” are sleeping off last night’s orgy. Through bits and bobs of near incoherent dialogue we learn that Blake is a musician who is trying to dodge everyone in his life, including someone named Blackie (which I assume represents Courtney Love here), and record execs who are pressuring him to get back out there and tour. His friend Donovan (who represents Dylan Carlson, Cobain’s best friend) arrives with a Private Investigator to the house looking for him too…and Blake somehow manages to hide out from them all while slamming doors and dashing out the back until they leave. Sooner or later he hangs out with the interloping friends staying at his house who shamelessly ask him for money. This is all interspersed with scenes of Blake eating Cocoa Rice Krispies and Kraft Dinner, beating up on a drum set, or sitting on the floor in a drug-induced high, grunting nonsense. The plot does not evolve much until the last eight minutes when (spoiler alert) he is found dead in the greenhouse by the gardener.

Van Sant used relatively unknown actors to play in Last Days. About the only substantial actor of recognition is Lukas Haas who played one of Blake’s interloping friends. Interestingly enough, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame was also pulled in to play one of the record execs, begging Blake to return to rehab.

One thing I hand to Van Sant is that he manages to give the viewer a sense of suspense without trying too hard, but where I find fault is there was no climax, reveal, or “ah-ha” moment. The viewer can tell something “ain’t quite right” with Blake, yet Van Sant’s “…wait for it…” method of suspense made me impatient with this film. Showing a person for 5 minutes doing nothing more than sitting there didn’t move the plot along, and definitely frustrated me. Some might perceive this as a work of genius, and that’s fine. I prefer more meat on them bones. Not providing a full picture on the character development and focusing plainly on sweeping scenes alone made the film feel empty and pointless. But, maybe that was the point…

2/5

Last Days
Dir. Gus Van Sant
2005

**Full movie is on YouTube for those interested

[Documentary] Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

maxresdefaultWhere were you when you heard the news that Kurt Cobain died?

In April, 1994, my sister and I were sharing a one-bedroom loft in the home of a beautiful Victorian House in London, Ontario. The guy who owned it, Bulloch, was a close friend of our Mom’s long-term Boyfriend (who later became my Step-father), who spent many weeks away in Kingston where his girlfriend lived. Good for us, the house was always quiet, and at one point, when our TV’s picture tube blew (a common occurance for us), we’d sneak downstairs to his study, sit on his Freudian leather sofa and utilize his cable TV. It was there around 5 PM April 5, 1994 when Global News broke halfway through the Young and the Restless to let viewers know of Kurt Cobain’s death.

At this point in history, I hadn’t owned any Nirvana albums, and only followed their career via radio, TV, the local pub and my friend, Jenn (that’s the same Jenn who goes to see the Watchmen with me), a big Nirvana fan. Living in a University town like London, Ontario, news of Kurt’s passing funkified the entire city, making it sullen, moody, and distracting. It was particularly awful timing too, as April is commonly known as exam month at Western U. Kurt had a fanbase, and even those who weren’t fans felt the sadness of the news of this musician who shot to stardom, took drugs and then ultimately made the choice to end his life.

Being in a constant spotlight from 1991 to 1994, it was hard to ignore what was going on with Kurt – his drug problems, his hatred for interviews, his relationship with his wife, Courtney Love…it was all juicy fodder for the tabloids. It was difficult separating fact from fiction when the public is fed the same tales over and over. And since his death, there have been theories, and conspiracies about Kurt, his private life and ultimate demise.

As the years pass, documentaries pop up with Kurt Cobain at the centre. Most recently, I watched the gritty Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, a seemingly honest, candid and well-balanced doc that explores Cobain’s early life in Aberdeen, Washington, his troubled family life, his beginnings as a musician, all the way to his rise on the charts. Interviews from those closest to him, including his parents, sister, ex-girlfriend, and former Nirvana bandmates charge a compelling look at this guy who was reluctant to be part of the spotlight. I was surprised to see Courtney Love being interviewed here too. and she winds up being a large component to this doc as several clips from their personal home movies are shown, which, I have to say, are very raw and personal… and not meant for young audiences.  Trippy animated adaptations of Cobain’s writings and personal interviews round out the film in compelling and disturbing artistry.

No doubt, I couldn’t help but feel sadness watching Montage of Heck, thinking about how damn talented Cobain was, feeling a lump in my throat as I sang along to Come As You Are (my favourite Nirvana song), Drain You, Smells Like Teen Spirit, among other fantastic songs. This dude had the attention of my generation, and continues to draw in the younger listeners. His legacy lives on in the bands that try to emulate his raw sound… and in decent films like this.

3.5/5

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Dir: Brett Morgen
2015