In the last year or so, Kurt Cobain’s suicide and legacy have been discussed even more than usual. Last April marked the 20th anniversary of his death, while this spring saw the release of Brett Morgen’s well-regarded Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck . Morgen’s doc was notable for its unprecedented access to Cobain’s personal archives, as well as family members including Courtney Love, Frances Bean Cobain, and his parents. Though the Love-approved Montage of Heck doesn’t always paint Courtney in the most flattering light, it does honor her relationship with Kurt as something deeply loving yet deeply complicated. It also stands in firm opposition to another recently released documentary about Kurt and Courtney, Soaked in Bleach, which Love is now trying to legally prevent from screening by claiming defamation of character.
“The Film falsely presents a widely and repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory that accuses Ms. Cobain of orchestrating the death of her husband Kurt Cobain. A false accusation of criminal behavior is defamatory per se under California Civil Code Section 45a, which entitles Ms. Cobain to both actual and presumed damages.”
“Even though [redacted, the theater name] did not produce the Film, distributors of defamatory material can be held liable if they ‘knew or had reason to know that the material was defamatory.’”
Soaked in Bleach is built around the longstanding conspiracy theories suggested by Tom Grant, the private investigator Love hired to look for Cobain in the days leading up to his death. The same day his body was discovered at his home with a gunshot wound to the head and containing an unthinkable amount of heroin (April 8, 1994), the Seattle Police Department deemed Cobain’s death an apparent suicide — a fact still contested by a faction of fans, who point to Grant’s loud insistence that Kurt’s death was a homicide involving Love as a conspirator. After 21 years of accusations that she killed her own husband, it’s not surprising that Love would do everything in her power to weaken the distribution of Soaked in Bleach — a move that the film’s producers characterized as “a cowardly attack on the rights of free speech, free expression and free choice” in a statement to Deadline.
Those following this matter closely may remember the 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney , which theorizes along similar grounds and features Grant. But that film takes an ugly and personal turn, when director Nick Broomfield masks his lack of evidence with a character assassination of Love. Like those behind Soaked in Bleach, Broomfield painted Love as an enemy of the First Amendment, in part because she wouldn’t license Nirvana’s music to a film that suggested she killed her husband. Shocker.
Soaked in Bleach‘s filmmakers can be somewhat proud of the fact that they don’t go quite to Broomfield’s extremes, instead focusing mostly on ex-police experts, who detail the case’s inconsistencies and mishandling. At one point in the film, Grant even points out a bit of misinformation within Kurt & Courtney, seemingly in an attempt to explain his motivations for involving himself in another documentary on Cobain’s death. But besides the obvious — the conspiracy theory itself — there are still a few aspects of Soaked in Bleach that could be considered defamatory to Love.
The film’s reenactments paint Courtney as not only unstable and unclothed at all times, but as possibly having an affair with her female drug dealer.
Is this necessary whatsoever? It’s well documented that Courtney was a drug addict, but the way her lifestyle is portrayed on screen makes the viewer inherently biased against and distrustful of her as a character. On the other hand, in Grant’s phone recordings, Love sounds more stable than one would expect of someone whose husband has gone missing and subsequently died.
Soaked In Bleach’s Love smacking her drug dealer’s ass during her first meeting with Grant.
Tom Grant, meanwhile, is portrayed as a beacon of justice and truth.
The filmmakers frame the private investigator as someone with a strong moral compass and a commitment to great work — essentially, a character the viewer inherently wants to believe and a foil to Courtney, someone you do not.
According to the film, Courtney loved the publicity generated by the rumors circulating before Kurt’s body was discovered.
Love is portrayed as being so intently focused on the upcoming release of Hole’s Live Through This at the time of Kurt’s disappearance from an LA rehab facility, just days before his death, that she leaked false information to the press in order to sell more records. With minimal phone clips supporting this claim, it’s unfair for the filmmakers to conclude that this was her motivation.
Kurt’s high school friends from Aberdeen are supposed to convince us that he wasn’t suicidal, as Courtney suggested.
Don’t we all keep our hometown friends up to date on our most intimate thoughts and feelings, especially after we’ve moved away and become massive rock stars? These claims are corroborated by Kurt’s happy statements in the media — an outlet that Nirvana fans know he did not respect or take seriously.
It’s insinuated that Courtney manipulated her inner circle into appearing helpful to Grant while really misdirecting him in the days leading up to and following Kurt’s death.
Yet none of these people, such as Kurt’s close friend Dylan Carlson, appear in Soaked in Bleach to corroborate Grant’s claims of misdirection. If Love was as drugged out as Grant makes her out to be, it’s difficult to imagine her constructing a massive plot in which she: a) conspires to kill her husband, b) hires a private investigator to make it look like she was concerned about Kurt’s wellbeing, and c) uses friends to relay vague information that will impede the detective from saving Kurt.