A maddening and fascinating meta-doc
KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE
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
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.