Kate Plays Christine

Christine Chubbuck was a newswoman in Sarasota, Florida in 1974. Originally hired as a reporter, she was writing and hosting her own community affairs talk show, called Suncoast Digest. She took her position seriously and sought out important local officials to discuss the community. On the morning of July 15th, Christine changed things up. As her guest waited in the wings, she sat behind the news anchor desk to read aloud a statement to her live audience. It read:

“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—attempted suicide.”

She pulled out a revolver, placed it behind her right ear, and pulled the trigger. Her hair puffed up, as if from a gust of wind, and blood spattered everywhere. Chubbuck fell forward, hitting the desk with a resounding thud, and then slipped slowly out of sight. The show’s technical director went immediately to black, but the damage was done: anyone tuning in had just seen a suicide live on TV.

christine-chubbuckShe had been depressed and spoke about suicidal feelings with her family, but never mentioned specific plans. Her mother thought her personal life was “not enough” and a recently removed ovary put pressure on Christine to find a man before it was too late and the door on her fertility closed forever.

On the bloodied desk, after Christine had been removed to hospital, was a hand-written, third-person account of her suicide, which she’d written for someone to read out as a statement. The article, written long-hand by herself, listed her condition as “critical” which makes me flinch. The prepared speech that she read out referred to the suicide as an attempted suicide. The statement lists her not as dead, but as critically wounded. Was this just an elaborate call for attention that she had every intention of surviving?

This movie is not a documentary, or at least not a straight-up one (docudrama, anyone?) and it’s the second of two films about this event that hit film festivals this year. The first, simply titled Christine, stars Rebecca Hall as Christine and Michael C. Hall as George Peter Ryan, a colleague of hers that she may have had an unrequited crush on but who was already in a relationship with Christine closest work colleague, the station’s sports reporter. This film, however, is not a straight-forward narrative. Instead, it’s more about actress Kate Lyn Sheil preparing to play the role of Christine.

Kate seems fairly genuine in her intention to portray Christine with empathy, and to not “fetishize the crazy woman” as she puts it.

The footage of Christine’s suicide has never been seen again. Lots of theories exist on where exactly this footage ended up, but it seems that the station owner Robert Nelson kept it, but removed it from the station. It seems now that his widow has passed it along to a law firm for safekeeping. No word on why it has never been destroyed. In preparing 000068-19843-16580_kateplayschristine_still1_katelynsheil_byseanpricewilliams_-_h_2016for the role, Kate finds it nearly impossible to access any footage at all, even of the many hours in which Christine was just the normal host of a daytime talk show on local television. Christine Chubbuck has vanished. Until these movies put her into the public’s consciousness again, her death (and life) was all but forgotten.

Early on in the film, Kate muses as to whether acting is compulsive, whether the impulse to act is perhaps unhealthy for her. As the film progresses and she interviews subjects increasingly on the periphery of events, she does seem obsessive in her pursuit. But for me, it feels like this movie never becomes any one thing. It blurs all the lines but never really takes a stand. It’s a deliberately frustrating experience for the audience. When we do see random snippets from this questionable movie that they’re supposedly making, they seem disjointed and random. Were they ever really making a movie? Those parts are the least convincing in a not-very-convincing film. But watching Kate get spray-tanned and shop for thrift-store stuffed animals that Christine might have had in her own bedroom…it’s just not very edifying. I think there’s supposed to be something in here about the nature of truth, but it’s not sitting right with me. Maybe it’s because that in some disturbing way, the director is making me complicit in the society of “gawkers” which the film claims to be skewering.

Anyway, there’s a lot of navel-gazing here, so much so that this feels like a self-indulgent performance piece more than an actual movie, and the more I watch, the more I question the motives of the people making it.




18 thoughts on “Kate Plays Christine

    1. Jay Post author

      I heard the widow say she preferred to just toss it in the water and be done with it, but someone convinced her not to. Some feel it belongs in a museum because it’s “history” but I’m not so sure. I think some things just don’t need to be seen.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. El Coleccionista Hipnótico

    Quite an interesting review of a movie with a very impressive subject. It leaves for me the intention to watch the movie to know more about the main caracter and the events, but then your words make me believe it would be useless. A pity they didn’t take this Project to the last consequences

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Birgit

    This is horrible and I have never heard about it before until recently. This just shows the dark side of human beings…..how many will slow down to get a glimpse of the accident. Others will listen to police stuff(can’t think of the word) and then go to the accident. Remember, people use to being picnic lunches to hangings….I think this would easily happen again if allowed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Harlon

    I’ve been wanting to see this. It got such a brief release in Toronto, but shows up at the Rep. Cinemas from time to time – I was questioning myself as to why I wanted to see, I suppose that might be what the movie is about. Cheers, Harlon P.S. I finally saw Arrival – I thought it was sublime.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brittani

    This one seems kind of strange. I’m not sure if I like the idea of a documentary about someone preparing to play her, even though there’s no intention of her actually playing her in a film. I’m still waiting to see Christine with Rebecca Hall.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The Chaos Realm

    Jeez…glad I was only a wee one and didn’t witness this…even now, I would find it disturbing. (Sarasota aka Sorry-sota is my hometown) Glad they haven’t released the clips. And, no, I’ve never even heard of this terrible tragedy, growing up. And we’re not known for being closemouthed in the South.


  6. Liz A.

    I hadn’t heard about this incident until these movies came out. I wonder if the filmmakers in this one were trying to get deep about the human condition or something and just fell flat.


  7. Sarca

    I’ve heard of this story, and am more interested in the other movie about Christine. I’m glad her suicide is nowhere to be found. There is enough of that online (really, Budd Dwyer’s suicide is enough to put you off seeing anyone else’s if you really have to see one).


  8. Pingback: Christine | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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