Kate Plays Christine

 

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A mixed bag of a film which raises doubt about what validly counts as being a documentary.

 

Kate Plays Christine

 

Intriguingly different from most documentaries but questionable on several levels, Robert Greene's film shows the actress Kate Lyn Sheil preparing to play the role of Christine Chubbuck, the 29-year-old TV news anchor who tragically chose to kill herself on air in Florida in 1974. Chubbuck, who may have acted thus in an ironic protest against blood and guts being shown on television or may simply have been a victim of depression, is now a largely forgotten figure. Sheil's enquiries into her life which we witness here reinstate memories of Chubbuck in a way that reminded me of Carol Morley's Dreams of a Life (2011) which investigated the lonely death of Joyce Carol Vincent. Furthermore, while we have seen many films about filmmaking, this piece covers new ground in showing the concerns of an actress setting out to portray not just a real person but somebody who was deeply troubled. In seeking to identify with her role, Sheil is being drawn to face her own uneasy thoughts about suicide and she asks to what extent this undertaking is unhealthy.

 

All of this is initially fascinating, but distracting questions arise when we see Sheil and her fellow actors in character in scenes that are being shot as well as commenting direct to camera on their roles. We come to suspect that the supposed film on which they are working never existed and that Sheil's performance as Christine is limited to what we see in Kate Plays Christine. Significantly the end credits refer to this documentary as 'starring Kate Lyn Sheil' and, if we question how much of this film is set up and contrived for the camera, the more the issue of this film's aims comes to the forefront.

 

Sheil is a strong presence and much of the material, especially in the first half and in the later inclusion of some rare footage of Chubbuck herself, is gripping. Nevertheless, at 112 minutes the film comes to seem much too long and the final scenes - the ones dealing with the portrayal of Chubbock turning a gun on herself - are played up with what looks like calculated repetition. Michael Haneke's controversial Funny Games is evoked but, where his film really did challenge its audience over what they enjoy viewing, Greeneā€™s work comes across ultimately as an unpleasant indulgence that makes the film's final taunting line seem downright hypocritical.                  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Kate Lyn Sheil, Rod Grant, Zachary Gossett, Holland Hayes, Linda Roser, Steven C. Bovio, Steve Zurk, Michael Rubino, Stephanie Coatney, Marty Stonerock, David Mackey, Michael Ray Davis. 

 

Dir Robert Greene, Pro Douglas Tirola and Susan Bedusa, Screenplay Robert Greene, Ph Sean Price Williams, Pro Des John Dickson, Ed Robert Greene, Music Keegan DeWitt.

 

Faliro House/4th Row Films/Prewar Cinema Productions-Dogwoof.
112 mins. USA/Greece. 2016. Rel: 14 October 2016. Cert. 15.