Thursday, October 13, 2016

... And I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore

You do get the feeling now and then, while watching Christine, that one of these days everything's gonna go alright for Christine Chubbuck. She's smart and serious and she works very hard, and even though her co-workers don't seem to know what to make of her they do seem to appreciate her, and she feels a part of their little world at the TV station. And it's kind of magic that Christine, the movie, can make us, the audience, feel that way because I doubt many people walk into Christine not knowing how it ends.

Three years to the day before I was born, on July 15th 1974, Christine Chubbuck shot herself in the head on camera while delivering a local news report to Central Florida. She died fourteen hours later. The footage of her suicide has become a sort of sick myth in the years since, but it has never been seen save by those unfortunate folks tuning into WXLT-TV that day. Still it's left its mark on our culture at large - Christine's death was part of Paddy Chayefsky's inspiration for the film Network, and her ghost haunts any story that asks "Has the News gone too far?"(I thought of her a lot watching Nightcrawler last year, for instance.) And just this year a pseudo-doc about her titled Kate Plays Christine was also released.

So the fact that director Antonio Campos manages to step outside of a dark specter that's lingered over an entire generation now is pretty marvelous. He shows a more assured hand here than he did with his last film Simon Killer, I thought - that film was a bit suffocated by its self, but Christine, downbeat though it may ultimately be, at least feels as if its having a dialogue with its audience. It smashes apart the myth of tragic Christine Chubbuck anyway and makes her feel like a person - an endlessly frustrating one, but one who lived, breathed, and died for things besides The Degradation By Commercialization Of The News Media 101.

Campos' greatest success here though is just grabbing Rebecca Hall and putting her front and center - she gives life and breath and yes tragedy to a remarkably strange creation, this Chubbuck. Rigid as a telephone pole from her brushed hair to her lurching feet Hall's a marvel of precisely off-center movements, piling up inexplicable but fascinating tics that kept making me lean in closer to see. (The opening scene, in which Christine practices naturalizing overly-practised on-air behaviors, sets the tone perfectly.) Hall's presence here is so alive with contrasts - at once lopingly awkward and a second later shut down, a robot switched to static - that you never know how any moment might go, but they all, in their erraticness, feel just right for a woman who would leave this sort of singular and deeply sad rubble in her wake.

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