A mad­den­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing meta-doc

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY


Di­rected by Robert Greene. Fea­tur­ing Kate Lyn Sheil, Stephanie Coat­ney, Michael Ray Davis, Zachary Gos­sel Club, IFI, Dublin, 112 min On the morn­ing of July 15th, 1974, Chris­tine Chub­buck – a reporter on the Florid­ian chan­nel WXLT – turned to the cam­era fol­low­ing a news re­port and said: “In keep­ing with Chan­nel 40’s pol­icy of bring­ing you the lat­est in blood and guts and in liv­ing colour, you are go­ing to see another first: an at­tempted sui­cide.” Chub­buck then drew a .38 cal­i­bre Smith and Wes­son re­volver from be­hind her desk and shot her­self be­hind the right ear, strik­ing her head on the desk be­fore slump­ing to the floor.

A care­fully pre­med­i­tated act, Chub­buck used the word “at­tempted” in case she proved un­suc­cess­ful. Thou­sands of view­ers wit­nessed her live sui­cide, but the record­ing has never sur­faced. (Re­ports sug­gest it was en­trusted to a law firm for safe­keep­ing.)

Bar­ring cer­tain cineastes who recog­nise Chub­buck as a pos­si­ble in­spi­ra­tion for the movie Net­work, the in­ci­dent was largely for­got­ten un­til ear­lier this year, when two very dif­fer­ent films about Chub­buck pre­miered at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val. Chris­tine, a biopic from Si­mon Killer di­rec­tor An­to­nio Cam­pos, with Re­becca Hall in the ti­tle role, re­ceived ec­static no­tices. But it has been beaten to the punch, in this ter­ri­tory at least, by this ex­per­i­men­tal doc­u­men­tary by Robert Greene.

Fol­low­ing on from the same di­rec­tor’s Ac­tress, a dis­jointed chron­i­cle of The Wire’s Brandy Burre at­tempt­ing to re­turn to act­ing fol­low­ing a baby break –

Kate Plays Chris­tine has in­ter­est­ing things to say about how Kate Lyn Sheil ( House of

Cards) pre­pares to play Chub­buck in a film that only ex­ists within this one.

Phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences are eas­ily ad­dressed with spray tan, sunbeds, a wig and brown con­tact lenses. In­te­rior life is trick­ier. Sheil con­sults with a psy­chol­o­gist, a gun-shop at­ten­dant and some of the reporter’s for­mer col­leagues.

One re­gards her death as a “to­tal waste of one good bul­let” as “it ac­com­plished noth­ing”. Another sug­gests that Sheil needs to de­velop a hard edge to es­say the for­mer an­chor: “There was noth­ing plas­tic

In her shoes: Kate Lyn Sheil pre­pares for the role of Chris­tine Chub­buck

about her.”

There is spec­u­la­tion about Chub­buck’s per­sonal life. At 29, she was still a vir­gin whose crush on a stock an­a­lyst was, ap­par­ently, un­re­quited. There are in­ter­est­ing asides about her de­pres­sion and the chal­lenges fac­ing a woman in a 1970s news­room, but none of these themes is de­vel­oped suf­fi­ciently, nor do they ad­e­quately ac­count for her ac­tions.

This meta-doc is sorely and mad­den­ingly lack­ing tes­ti­monies from those who were close to Chub­buck. Ul­ti­mately, she re­mains as enig­matic as her mo­ti­va­tions on that fate­ful morn­ing. Per­haps that is Greene and Sheil’s point. But it makes for a frus­trat­ing and er­ratic, if au­da­cious, film.

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