D: Antonio Campos. W: Craig Shilowich. DP: Joe Anderson. Starring: Rebecca Hall/Michael C. Hall/Tracey Letts/Maria Dizzia/J. Smith-Cameron/Timothy Simons/Kim Shaw/John Cullum.
Last month saw some sleeper releases. Hidden gems amid the flurry of Oscars season. With heads clearing from Sunday night’s madness we might be finally able to get back into what’s on at the cinema.
Christine premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival then did a festival run with a quiet release in the fall in the U.S. and now in the U.K. A chapter biopic concentrating on the weeks of its subjects life, Christine is the story of Christine Chubbuck. A twenty-nine year old Sarasota, FL based news reporter, Chubbuck committed suicide via gunpoint on air in July 1974.
The event is relatively unknown as the internet, home TV recording or viral news did not exist back then. Chubbuck’s last news report remains hidden and unwatchable, protected by those who cared for her. British actress Rebecca Hall steps in as Chubbuck. A glossy long dark wig and fiercer eyebrows gives Hall a specific 70s look that is complimented by the muted yellowy tones of the film. Hall gives an intense performance swinging between hyper emotionality and deceptive control. The film can only scratch the service of a woman who was clearly at war within herself. A war fueled by her drive, personal inadequacies, love, and health.
Hall is supported by a strong cast in Michael C. Hall as fellow news anchor George and an acting turn from playwright Tracy Letts as station head Michael. Maria Dizzia shines as Chubbuck’s work friend Jean who, along with Chubbuck’s mother, get the brunt of her turmoil. Although she does have a brother, he is not represented in the film. It is a shame Christine did not get a wider release as its success lies in the fact that it grips you even though you know its lead’s fate. It begs its modern audience to rethink sensationalized news, exploitation, and click bait in the age of the digital. In a time where our world, especially the U.S., is attacking its media here is a woman caught in the middle of a previous time trying to assert integrity and human interest into news. If anything a reminder of the great strides we still need to make in the world of mental health.
As the industry seems to love competing projects, also at Sundance last year was a documentary entitled Kate Plays Christine. Unable to get any consent from family members or former TV station colleagues, the documentary deals with access to the real subject and an actress trying to portray her. Yet the fictionalized Christine allows director Antonio Campos greater freedom to explore universities of his subjects pain and takes step to create the context for her story. Chubbuck’s fanatical drive is a clear ironic precursor to the 1976 Sidney Lumet film, Network. A great piece of independent filmmaking, go see Christine if you can.