Soaked In Bleach: There’s No Holding It Back (Interview)

Soaked In Bleach CoverIncredibly, more than 20 years after his death, there is still controversy around how Kurt Cobain left this world. Perhaps with the proliferation of conspiracy theories found on the internet, its not so surprising after all. If you are one of those folks who tends to roll their eyes and throw up their hands when there is any suggestion that Kurt Cobain’s death was caused by anything other than his own hand, you may want to take a look at this new documentary, Soaked In Bleach. Director Benjamin Statler has been making waves with the theatrical release of this docudrama, resulting in cease and desist orders from Courtney Love’s attorneys. But the film seems to have a life of its own. Now you can make your own mind up as the film is released on DVD in New Zealand this month. The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Benjamin Statler about the reasons he felt driven to make Soaked In Bleach and about how the release of that other Kurt Cobain film, Montage Of Heck, may have been counter-measure to his film. Yes, there are plenty of theories to go around, but to his credit, Statler seems most interested in facts.

Listen to the interview with film director Benjamin Statler here:

Or read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: I would guess the biggest hurdle for you is getting people to watch the film because I imagine people are going to approach it with an awful lot of preconceived notions, that it’s going to be some kind of trashy thing. How do you deal with that?

BS: I just, you know…raising awareness, like what we’re doing right now…publicity, press, telling about it otherwise. And of course the most effectual thing is the people who have watched it and their reporting of it, the reviews of it, because with those people it’s been overwhelmingly positive and at this point I’ve heard literally countless thousands of people who had the preconceptions, who were blown away. And of course, that’s continually multiplying as they share their story. I’m encouraged with how it’s beginning to spread like wildfire now despite some attempts to suppress the film and despite some preconceptions that were very real as you kind of guessed there very accurately.

MD: From what I understand you put your own money into making the film. Did you have people close to you says, “Don’t do this, you’re insane. People don’t want to see this.”?

BS: Yep, yep, for many years I had people warning me about the financial, legal and even physical risk I was taking in doing this. I gave it serious thought. I didn’t want to be presumptuous and foolish but I finally got to the point where I realized, you know, this is in my heart of hearts, this is my passion, if I don’t do this, I’m choosing fear over my heart and I just concluded I gotta follow my heart and I did it, I went for it. So it was definitely no small sacrifice but I have no regrets, I’m very glad I made the choice that I did.

MD: One of the things that you touched on in the film is how a lot of people think that they know Kurt Cobain or Courtney because of the image being created by the same media that you’re now attempting to deal with directly yourself. Fans seem to think that they know them because of the way things have been reported back to them.

BS: Unfortunately.

MD: Yeah…so how do people…the average schmo…get over that? How do they get past that?

Benjamin Statler
Benjamin Statler

BS: If they can open themselves for 90 minutes, I’ve seen them get past that very effectually. I mean, it’s just the facts. I’ve always found the people that get emotionally charged at me when they haven’t heard these facts…you know, they’re very strong with their opinions and emotions, that it was a suicide, leave it alone, etc. And you ask them why they believe this and then every time they rattle off all this misinformation. Everything they say is untrue. The title of the movie, Soaked In Bleach, is the broader message; obviously the specific message is I’m wanting to vindicate my hero, Kurt, as well as Tom Grant because I don’t believe it was suicide. But the broader message too…Soaked In Bleach, speaking of the whitewashing of the media, is speaking to people, whether they’re fans of Kurt or not, to please base your opinions and your world views on facts and don’t just presume that everything that the media tells you is truth. Research it for yourself. I hope that Soaked In Bleach can serve as an example for people…they can watch it and see, point by point, everything they were told was wrong. We show the media telling you that he left his drivers’ licence out so that everyone would know but then we show you the first responders you, “No, that’s not the case at all.” You know, everything we were told is false.

MD: And I think probably the most important thing that you bring up is the fact that everyone believed that he was suicidal way before this and that the incident in Rome was an attempted suicide which gets lodged back in your brain somewhere And you just take it for granted that, yeah, that was what was going on.

BS: Absolutely. Well just today, I’m literally…when I’m finished with interviews today I’ll be posting on social media what I knew had happened. I wasn’t permitted to speak about it yet, but the detective who was there on March 18th, when we were told that Kurt locked himself in a bathroom with guns, that detective has now come forward and shared the real details which has nothing in common with what we were told again, which is, he got there and he said he had to wait for his backup and Courtney said, “Well if you’re not going to do anything then just get the “F” out of here”. And when his backup came, they were going around the back to go to the back door and lo and behold there Kurt was in the backyard, not in a room in the house like we were told. Standing there sheepishly, he wasn’t suicidal, as he made clear to them; he was actually embarrassed about the whole situation. He gladly went to the cruiser with the detective and spoke with him. The detective said he was a very, very nice guy and explained to him the situation. So again, along with March 3rd, the Rome incident, another example of an attempt to paint him as suicidal, but was completely false.

MD: I guess that can go to a bigger understanding of how the media works with politics and all that, you know people make major decisions based upon these things that they “know” from what they’ve seen on television. One of the people…the main focus of your film…the one that viewers really have to get on side with is Tom Grant, the private investigator. I curious, when did you first meet him and what were your first impressions of him?

Tom Grant
Tom Grant

BS: I first wrote him in 2011, we shortly thereafter talked on the phone then shortly thereafter met in person and progressively I was more and more impressed with him. I felt good about him from his website, just the way he handled it and responded to people, I could tell the way he ran his website it was all about sticking to objective facts, not so much speculation. And then when I spoke with him I found it to be even more the case, and also I was just impressed meeting the guy and seeing that he’s all about his family and all of that. Again, so much in contrast to the picture that was painted of him, you know, people…his detractors had tried to make him out to be a guy who was obsessed with this, like he’s some kind of conspiracy nut, as they would coin it. Tom Grant could not be further from that, literally. It’s comical, because if you were making a spectrum of ‘conspiracy nut’ on one extreme and then whatever the opposite extreme is, that’s Tom Grant as the other end of the spectrum.

MD: Because I do remember when the film Kurt & Courtney came out back in the late 90s, the impression I had, again, in the back of my head somewhere, was, this guy, Tom Grant, was just a nutcase and was obsessed with insisting that Kurt had been killed and he was to be dismissed out of hand.

BS: It’s unfortunate because in fact he’s a former LA County sheriff deputy who had a stellar record, who happens to be a very talented, smart investigator, who also happens to love children and his family and who is highly ethical who can’t walk away from truth and justice especially when he begins to see copycat suicides unfolding and it’s just breaking his heart. He can’t walk away from that, and he doesn’t. And he stands for the truth in face of all of this persecution and false accusations and false portrayal. The man deserves much honour at this point for what he’s done.

MD: I think the other guy who really makes a strong case for himself is Norm Stamper, the former Sheriff of Seattle. Again, when did you first talk to him and when did you realize that he was going to be an important part of your film?

BS: Well we got a hold of him during pre-production which was summer of 2013, before we went into production and did the interviews in October of 2013. We were obviously elated that he agreed to come on. I had hoped primarily with Norm before we met with him…the fact that he said yes was fantastic, beyond expectation. And then I was just hoping I could get him to admit what would have been the proper protocol for approaching Kurt Cobain’s death scene and what should have been done in investigating that. And then we could have contrasted that in the movie with what they actually did do, and that would have been powerful. But we met with him and shared with him what we knew from Tom Grant’s investigation and that really got his attention. Before we did the interview he admitted that he would gladly on camera state that he would re-open the investigation today, if he were chief today, which he did. I was just elated, I was thankful beyond words for this guy whose humility and again, a man standing for the truth. We shot for getting the most qualified forensic experts that we could get and that’s what we got. (laughs) So we were very fortunate. I mean Dr. Cyril Wecht, I mean so many people would insist that he’s the top forensic pathologist on the planet; I mean his track record is just legendary, what he’s done. And then Vern Geberth wrote the handbook on death investigation that’s used by all the police departments…top that!

MD: But you also have some characters involved in the story that don’t appear particularly on the film, that didn’t cooperate and I’m wondering if they were approached by your people, like Rosemary Carroll or Dylan Carlson. Did you try and get them involved with the film?

BS: Yeah, I couldn’t get a hold of Rosemary; I could not find a contact for her. After we shot, I saw there was a Facebook page which I assume was hers, that was all I could find.

MD: Really?

Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson

BS: Yeah. Dylan Carlson, I had a mutual friend of back there. I respect the fact that the friend I made, who’s there, you know, he had his relationship with him…I don’t know if he’s a close friend, but he knows him and has mutual friend as well…and understandably this friend of mine that I made didn’t want to appear to these people to be bringing what would appear to be a Hollywood guy to then…which I’m very much not a Hollywood guy, I would like to think. I know I’m not, as a matter of fact. So there was a time when I heard that Dylan and Duff McKagan and Laurie Gold and some other people were going to be playing at some place and I was gonna go there and then that fell through, they didn’t do that. So I was hoping to meet him. I understood that it wasn’t likely he would want to cooperate; I think he was a bit put off by how it had gone for him in Kurt & Courtney. I don’t think he enjoyed that very much. So I still would have loved to have met him, just the fact that he had been one of Kurt’s best friends, but I never got to. But I did invite Courtney to be interviewed but she never responded to the invitation. I never heard from her until her attorneys wrote me the cease and desist letter after I released the first trailer in 2014.

MD: And there was a newer cease and desist order that went out to theatres in the States, right?

BS: Yeah. When we shared that, that trended number one on Facebook. They threatened every theatre that showed the movie.

MD: And I assume that nothing really happened with that.

BS: One theatre caved.

MD: And the other, kind of, mysterious character is…I forget the guy’s name…the nanny, the former Courtney boyfriend who was supposedly at the house.

BS: Oh, Michael “Cali” DeWitt. I think you’re also thinking of Caitlin, the drug dealer. Yeah, so Cali, it’s ironic, when I first moved to LA, when I first decided I was pursuing this film thing full time with all my heart, the first project I wanted to do was this, of course. I had really been studying Tom’s thing at the time so I was obviously thinking about Michael Cali DeWitt quite a bit. It was so crazy, the girl cutting my hair at the time was talking about her friend ‘Cali’ from Silver lake, where she was. She was commuting all the way across town. And I was like, “This isn’t by chance Michael “Cali” DeWitt you’re talking about, is it?” Her face turned really red and she said, “How did you know that?” And I said, “Well do you know what they’re saying about him?” She said, “What?” And I told her and her eyes got really big and she’s like, “Oh, my God!” And so, we lost touch, I’d moved to another part of town, and I called her once I was in pre-production, which would have been seven years later, and I was like, “Do you remember the project we talked about?” She said, “Yes, of course. And if you want I can set up a meeting with him.” I’m like, “I would love that.” She…it didn’t work out, basically. And then ironically, another guy, who was cutting my hair that year, after I’d already started shooting, was friends with Cali. It’s really crazy. And then he was going to try set up and then he’s like, “No, I don’t think that’s going to be good”. I’m like, “Alright.” So, it never happened.

MD: Has anyone ever talked to him about his involvement in any of this?

BS: I had another guy coming more recently, a couple of months ago, a guy came who was wanting to help get it in other screens and then after we had talked for hours he emailed me telling me that one of his best friends was good friends with Cali. And I’m think, “Oh, never thought to mention that before, huh?” He was saying that Cali would love to talk with me on the phone, but not in person. And I just thought that was interesting…I mean, I’m not accusing Cali of anything, I’m just saying an investigation should be reopened. However, let’s face it, he is one of Tom’s main suspects. And I basically told the guy, I’m like, “Look, if Cali’s willing to talk on the phone with Tom on the phone as well and Tom is allowed to record it, then I’m fine with it, otherwise I do not see the point in this. And nothing came through after that.

MD: About the filmmaking in general, or specifically your film, did you have many thoughts about whether it was a good idea to do recreations, dramatizations, or go as a straight talking head thing? How did that work within your idea of how the film was ultimately going to look?

BS: Yeah, I see it as important. I mean, I enjoy it creatively as well as functionally and I see the docudrama as something that…I personally would love to see the docudrama recognized as its own genre whereas now we have feature films and documentaries. I feel like this one in-between is very effective and it’s vast, the potential for it, it’s yet undiscovered. I was hoping Soaked In Bleach can serve as an example of that. I think, as this movie ultimately shows what you can do with a docudrama, the docu part, the interviews with the forensic experts, is where you get the expression, the enunciation of the objective facts of this investigation, the drama part is where you get the fleshing out of the story and the context of the situations that Tom Grant experienced as he walked through this investigation. And I believe they’re equally important because to really understand how it went down and the order and all that, I think really it clarifies things in a different kind of a way. Yeah, I enjoyed it. I felt like with the recordings, one of my first ideas was to, ironically, was to do the Richard Linklater-style animation kurt-cobain-montage-of-heck-posterwhich Brett Morgen used for Montage. So it’s ironic because he used that when I had been considering that, but then I decided to go for it with the recreations which was, you know, daunting. I knew what I believed the potential was but a lot of people of course were saying, “well that’s going to be cheesy”, because they had their idea of what docudramas would look like and I had more of my idea of what it could look like. It was intimidating especially as a first-time director, but I also just believed it was all meant to be and I was encouraged by the way things fell into place…all the people that were brought to the project you know with Danny Roebuck and Sarah Scott, August Emerson and Jerry Hawk…just very talented, professional people to work with.

MD: Do you look at Montage Of Heck as the white-washed version or almost the answer to your film?

BS: Yeah well, Montage…the timing I’ll say is very interesting. I don’t know what happened. What I do know is that I was actually offered to come in on Montage…irony of ironies. The first attorney I was referred to, to write up the agreements I was bringing on for Soaked In Bleach, that was in 2013, and he told me about this movie, which he ended up being the executive producer for, which as going to be about the down-to-earth side of Kurt involving Brett Morgen and Courtney Love. I never heard anything about Francis Bean at the time. And I told him, I’m like, “Oh that’s great, I’m all for that, a movie to show more what Kurt was like”. And I told him what I was doing and he’s like, “Oh, well I could never represent you.” So he referred me, which I respected, you know, it was great. But I thought it was interesting…I had seen a trailer for the movie on Kurt that Courtney was supposedly doing years before that. I’d seen a trailer for it at an independent theatre in Santa Monica and it never came around. I read where Brett said in an interview that he was burning the candle at both ends in the fall of 2014 to finish up Montage which I found interesting, you know, with the Soaked In Bleach trailer, the first one being released in April of 2014, the way that happened. And lo and behold I saw an advertisement for it and the end of 2014, advertising Francis Bean as Executive Producer, which I’d never heard about her being a part of at all. I’d always heard about Courtney and Brett Morgen so… As a Kurt fan, there’s a lot of things that I’ve enjoyed and I’ve watched parts of it over and over because I love anything new with Kurt. And I thought Brett did some interesting things creatively. There were things artistically that I enjoyed very much. With that being said, I also believe it was chock full of misinformation and misrepresentation which I find extremely unfortunate and unfair to Kurt Cobain. And I find it irresponsible, personally. But, you know, I don’t know what Brett Morgen knew so it’s no personal judgement on Brett. I don’t know what he was told and what was shared with him. I find the misinformation in the movie unfortunate but I’m also encouraged by the fact that Soaked In Bleach is spreading like wildfire and people can see the facts there. They can see Kurt in that movie and they can see the facts about the circumstances surrounding Kurt’s death in Soaked In Bleach.

MD: What do you think the realistic changes, the possibilities are, of the case being reopened?

BS: I personally believe it absolutely will be reopened. There’s no doubt in my mind, it’ll eventually be reopened. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t believe so and I’ve been very encouraged by the progressive unfolding of events. I mean today we have the article coming out about the March 8th incident, the truth, that detective has stepped forward now and I’m hearing things of other key people that may be stepping forward very soon. Concerning the investigation, I’m also hearing through the grapevine certain A list key people that if they spoke up, it’s going to be very powerful and I believe that’s going to happen. I’m looking into ways to possibly get some of them together so they don’t feel alone when they’re speaking out.

MD: What do you think has kept them from speaking out so far? Do you think they’ll look like crackpots or were they afraid of their credibility or more than that?

BS: That’s a huge question mark for me. I think…you know there’s a lot of speculation there…I think potentially there could be ways their hands are tied that we don’t know of. It could be intimidation too. I’ve just seen certain powers trying so hard to suppress this movie, you know, who knows what it’s like for them if they feel like they’re the only ones speaking out, as far as a blacklisting type of a thing. I feel like if enough of them do, what are they going to do, shut down everybody?

MD: Speaking of intimidation, there was a name that came up when I was doing some reading on my own, Jack Palladino…

BS: Oh yeah, Jack Palladino.

MD: What was his involvement? He was also a private investigator, is that right, who was hired by Courtney?

BS: No, Jack Palladino was an attorney. My understanding is, he attempted to intimidate Max Wallace and Ian Halperin when they were releasing their books. My understanding is he met with them and basically led them to believe it wouldn’t go well for them if they did. But they didn’t give into that, they moved forward and I’m thankful that they did. Their books are also very impactful on me. And of course Max Wallace did an excellent job in his interview in Soaked In Bleach.

Soaked In Bleach is only a tool and now we need people to facilitate the tool, to get it out to as many people as possible. And of course that’s through people like you and all the fans speaking up. It’s happening. I’ve received feedback from countless thousands already who strongly thought one way before and now that they’ve watched it, their mind is blown. And of course they’re sharing with people so it’s multiplying. Despite all the efforts to suppress it, there’s no holding it back at this point. The futility of that effort is comical to me at this point. The wall is coming down, that’s all there is to it.