500 Days Of Film Reviews Documentary, Kate Plays Christine Starring Kate Lyn Sheil
In July 1974, 29 year-old television host, Christine Chubbuck, went on air in Sarasota, Florida for her morning talk show Suncoast Digest.
At one point during the show, Chubbuck turned to the cameras 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 – attempted suicide.”
She then shot herself on live TV and died fourteen hours later.
Kate Plays Christine, looks at this tragic event and its aftermath by following actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to portray Chubbuck on film.
Is It Any Good?
Director, Robert Greene’s, superb and thought provoking film, Kate Plays Christine, is part documentary and part psychological thriller. It examines what drove Christine Chubbuck to suicide and also explores what it means to tell her story today.
For, with very little information or anecdotal evidence to go on, how can Kate play Christine? How can she do justice to this deeply troubled woman? Should we even be re-telling her story given that the interest in her life stems from its grisly end?
“I’ve been trying to make a film about Christine Chubbuck for nearly a decade, but I could never imagine a traditional documentary portrait,” Greene explains. “I didn’t want to make a straightforward story about a woman who committed suicide on live television – it wasn’t my place (nor was it possible, as far as I could tell) to try to “explain” why Christine did what she did.
“Kate Plays Christine was an attempt to evoke the impossibility of making a movie about this kind of tragedy. It’s a film about the relationships between staged and real selves and how observing the gulf between the two can help us feel and think about the emptiness associated with the kind of depression that can lead someone to make the fateful decisions Christine made."
Greene adds that his film is “also about whether these kinds of stories need to be told at all, or if they’re simply sensational and inherently sexist and just feed into the very thing that Christine was protesting against with her final words about ‘blood and guts television’.”
Initially, Kate's preparation for her role is fascinating - a window into the creative process. She spends time researching Chubbuck, going to great lengths to try to understand her motivations. In addition, she has to transform herself into Christine - physically.
The film’s psychological tension lies in the need for Kate to allow Christine to take over both her body and her mind. As Kate becomes increasingly frustrated and depressed by this process, so we become increasingly unsettled and concerned for her well-being.
Despite her intense research, Kate is never successful at capturing Christine’s essence. Reenactments of key moments in Chubbuck’s life just don't work - they feel forced and unconvincing.
However, this was Greene’s intention all along: “ I wanted to try to make a film that feels like it falls apart as you watch. This was attempted in two ways. First, the reenacted scenes are purposely artificial, full of soap opera-like melodramatic performances that serve to illustrate the inevitable impossibility of trying to “explain” Christine in a conventional way.”
The unsettling end of Kate Plays Christine asks important questions of its audience. Why do we need to see films such as these? Don’t these stories feed the very media monster that Chubback was protesting about?
These are, of course, complicated questions for which there are no easy answers. As a result, Kate Plays Christine will linger long in my mind.
Kate Plays Christine won the 2016 US Documentary Special Jury Award for Writing at Sundance Film Festival.
Interestingly, there is another film about Christine Chubback coming out soon - the biopic, Christine, starring Rebecca Hall in the title role. After watching Kate Plays Christine, I will certainly view this movie with different, more skeptical eyes.
Have you watched Kate Plays Christine?
If you have, what did you think of Robert Greene’s new documentary? Let me know by leaving me a comment in the box below!