Thoughts on Kate Plays Christine (2016)

A case of docudrama as moral entrapment.

It’s not exactly a documentary, because the film the making of which is its subject doesn’t actually exist outside the film itself. Director Robert Greene hires Kate Lyn Sheil to prepare to play Christine Chubbuck, a real-life newscaster in the 70s who shot herself in the head during a live broadcast and later died. Never heard of her? Nor have most people, and little of her or her work now remains. The film explores this commentary on death and legacy in American culture on the one hand, and Kate’s struggle to identify enough with Christine to portray her convincingly on the other.

Once the format and premise are clearly grasped by the viewer, little of interest really happens. Sure, there’s the odd new observation or the unexpected source of information and acting insight, but the main draw of the film is the twofold allure of how the final reenactment will turn out and how deep Kate has to go to get there.

The final scene, the actual reenactment, has a twist to it, one part of which is that Kate (seemingly) loses her cool and calls Greene (and the viewer) a sadist. Indeed, there seems to be no other reason to want to watch this film to the end. The enticement of a gory spectacle is what keeps us slogging through this two-hour circular meditation, so one can’t help but feel that the whole point of the exercise is to showcase Greene’s Baudelairean streak: Hypocrite visionneuse—mon semblable—mon frère! Ugh, no thanks.

Editor’s note: This piece has been published at Critics at Large along with the piece on American Animals (2018).

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