Kate Plays Christine
Robert Greene’s “documentary” about a 1970s news anchor’s on-air suicide is a dark, perplexing study in method acting, psychological drama and the art of documentary making itself.
Ostensibly a non-fiction film, Kate Plays Christine follows Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to portray news reporter Christine Chubbuck in a movie about her 1974 live-broadcast suicide. Set in Sarasota, Florida, Kate retraces one woman’s path to self-destruction, meeting all those who knew and worked with Christine, and replicating her lonely lifestyle in a desperate attempt to get under the skin of the real-life protagonist she must play. In doing so, however, the actress too confronts the anxieties Chubbuck faced and begins asking her own questions. Is making a film about Chubbuck’s bloody, dramatic end playing into the exact voyeurism Christine herself was resisting; her final on-air words before shooting herself in the head being “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.”
Kate Lyn Sheil is compelling, showing layers of complexity as the lines blur between her and the woman she plays. Her turmoil is palpable as the camera watches her transform physically, joining her in a spray tanning booth and sharing in the discomfort of wearing a wig, and psychologically, replicating the emotional journey Christine has taken. It reveals the toll getting into the role can take on the mind, at one moment Kate saying to the camera, “I don’t think people realise how hard it is.”
Expertly shot, with impeccable attention to detail, Greene takes full advantage of the Sarasota setting, capturing the idiosyncrasies of life in the town as well as the 70s aesthetic through clips of the “film” that is being shot. The sense of the place is also made manifest by the plethora of side characters that discuss Christine and their varying perspectives on her suicide.
It’s bleak but offers an arthouse film critic’s dream of a premise, with the audience left baffled as to whether it is Kate Lyn Sheil on screen or a character within a character. In the climactic final scene, as she begs not to have to “shoot” the final moment, it seems it is the audience themselves she is pleading with, as they are made complicit in the exploitation Chubbuck, and in turn Kate, wished to defy.
Kate Plays Christine is released in selected cinemas on 14th October 2016.
Watch the trailer for Kate Plays Christine here: