Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2016 6:49 am 
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Too much to bear

Christine Chubbuck was a newscaster who shot and killed herself on live TV in Sarasota, Florida in 1974. By coincidence, two films about her debuted at Sundance last January. The first to be released was Kate Plays Christine, Robert Greene's study of a current-day actress preparing, with crippling thoroughness, to play the lead in a film about the event - with Kate Lyn Sheil presumably playing herself. Antonio Campos goes the direct route, with the greater success. But both films are interesting, and make quite a double bill -- to be studied in future film courses alongside Sidney Lumet's famous 1976 offshoot of Chubbuck's story Network.

Where Greene makes us think, Campos makes us feel. He plunges in and, with fullness and precision, dramatizes the original events Greene dances around. The English actress Rebecca Hall, Vicky in Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona, embodies Ms. Chubbuck and she does, from the first, a terrific job of it, the best performance of her career, backed by a superb cast and a recreation of the broadcasting and Seventies milieux with remarkable faithfulness. This is a provocative and unique movie, at once the most remarkable and most mainstream work the bold Campos has yet done. After the meta- of Greene's approach, it's part tonic, part toxic to be plunged so vividly into Chubbuck's intense, uneasy world. Campos' writer Craig Shilowich has given him a spot-on script.

Campos provides what Chubbuck's bullying TV station boss Michael (the terrific Tracy Letts) keeps calling for: juice. Do we know what led Christine to take her own life in such a dramatic way? Of course not. There are plenty of reasons. Apart the bullying, which keeps her, she thinks, from getting the opportunity to do good, serious work, she is single, dateless, a virgin, living with her mother Peg (the excellent J. Smith-Cameron) on the verge of reaching thirty. She has just learned she has an ovarian cyst whose necessary removal may make it hard to have children. She is chronically tense and socially inept, always imposing herself on people when they don't want it and withdrawing when they want to be kind and friendly to her.

All this is absurdly out of whack to the point of seeming funny sometimes; and the film revels in period, particularly the clunky accoutrements of TV on the verge of converting over from film to video when video was still pretty fuzzy and remote reports sometimes didn't play on air when called for. It's almost as if the now awkward looking styles and technology, not to mention Watergate, are themselves an unbearable burden for the sensitive, unhappy young woman -- who yet is ambitious and passionate about her work and wants so much to succeed. One of the last straws is learning that the smooth but unambitious anchorman George (Michael C. Hall) and "the little blonde number in Sports” have been tipped by the station owner for promotion to his new outlet in Baltimore, and she's been passed over. We can see very well why, and feel also that it's a shame. She's pretty and ambitious, and even the mean Michael acknowledges she's the smartest person at the station.

But probably the crisis arises not from any of this, nothing in particular, anyway. We learn that Chris got “all turned around” from something in Boston and has come to Florida for peace and quiet, but not found it. The darkness and discontent are inside. But they make what's outside understandably too much. This is one of the most restrained and convincing portraits of psychological meltdown on film. And Campos does it straight, with none of the chilly abstraction he delivered in his earlier Afterschool (starring Ezra Miller) and Simon Killer (with Brady Corbett). Campos has matured and fulfilled his promise here, ably supported by Shilowich's screenplay.

There are many admirable little touches, and the best thing is so many are neither obvious nor obligatory. There's the strange, absurd garage owner with the back room gun warehouse who loans Chris a pistol. Her little puppet shows performed as a volunteer at a children's hospital. Chris fidgeting with film and a videocamera; writing on her portable typewriter at home, composing last words on the IBM Selectric at the studio. The creepy fire victim, in shooting whom Chris has worked in "Nightcrawler" mode. Christine has lots of stuff worth coming back to. It's looking like one of the year's best American films.

Christine, 115 mins. debuted at Sundance Jan. 2016. Seven other festivals including Toronto, London and Mill Valley, in US theaters 14 Oct. 2016.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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