(hoopla/kanopy/VOD) Coincidentally, this was released in the same year as CHRISTINE, but by the radical documentarian Robert Greene, again about Christine Chubbuck.
While I dodged Christine’s life events in yesterday’s recommendation of CHRISTINE, I can’t do so here because it’s the crux of this documentary. So, if you’d planned on watching CHRISTINE, go ahead and do so before reading further.
Pad, pad, padding the post.
While giving a news report on the local news network she worked for, Christine diverged from the report and said: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’ and in living color, you are going to see another first—an on-the-air suicide.” She then shot herself in the head, and died shortly after.
While CHRISTINE is a fictionalized exploration of Chubbuck’s psyche, KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE sees Kate Lyn Sheil (previously mentioned: the STRANGE WEATHER music video, also of YOU’RE NEXT and SHE DIES TOMORROW, as well as previously recommended director Sophia Takal’s debut GREEN) doing research for the role of playing Christine Chubbuck.
If you aren’t familiar withe Robert Greene’s work, he plays with the nature of recreation in documentaries. His follow-up, BISBEE ’17, explicitly explores that as he enlists an entire town to recreate what becomes a xenophobic, union-busting exiling of denizens. As a fan of documentaries, I believe this sort of meta-exploration of the inherent exploitation of documentaries is important, but also potentially fraught with their own sort of problems.
That’s why, with KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE, Greene’s smartly — and just as potentially problematically — documentary puts it entirely on Shell’s shoulders, and — if what we’re shown is to be believed — really puts her through the wringer. Shell is recreating Christine, physically and mentally, and it takes its toll.
It’s worth nothing that KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE is partially constructed around the urban legend that Paddy Chayefsky’s NETWORK was inspired by Christine’s on-air suicide, which is complete and utter bullshit — Chayefsky had been workshopping NETWORK well before her suicide — but something Greene defends as “being not quite true seems completely appropriate.”
It’s also worth noting that the dramatic re-enactments are terribly scripted, feel stilted and, apart from a few scenes, probably should’ve been excised completely, even if they were intentionally mawkish. That seemingly undercuts all of the work that everyone — especially Sheil — has done, but I get the feeling Greene doesn’t care.
Before writing these two recommendations, I’d felt that KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE was the ‘better’ film versus CHRISTINE; it conceptually tackles more; it’s more artfully, abstractly constructed; the intent is to take a magnifying lens to why we want to examine this story. Today, I’m not so sure.
At the end of the day, it’s still just a bunch of dudes reappropriating Christine’s story for their own reasons, for reasons she Christine herself probably wouldn’t agree with, which seems like the biggest sin here. Fundamentally, this is a story about a woman trying to live the life she’d set out for herself. The fact that she lived in a masculine world of journalism, or that she killed herself in what would be considered a masculine way, shouldn’t require a masculine retelling, but instead we received two re-appropriations of the tale.
“You have to tell me why you want to see it. … Are you happy now?”