Kate Plays Christine (4 stars)

Kate Plays Christine

Ambitious documentary exploring the sad story of Christine Chubbuck and the artistic process itself

In July of 1974, a young Florida TV reporter named Christine Chubbuck acquired a slight and macabre form of fame, by fatally shooting herself in the head during a live news broadcast. On the desk in front of her was a handwritten script about her death, left for her colleagues to transmit.

The footage of Chubbuck's demise, rumoured to still exist on tape but never glimpsed, is a holy grail for aficionados of transgressive material, its elusiveness a fascinating anomaly to the access-all-areas internet generation. Two movies on the subject surface this year: a fairly straightforward biopic with Rebecca Hall in the lead role, and this artsier undertaking, which follows real actress Kate Lyn Sheil in documentary style as she enacts preparations to play Chubbuck in a non-existent narrative film.

Such layers of pretence and reality are appropriate to a story about which facts are thin and mythology intense. Director Robert Greene makes it his project not so much to explain Chubbuck or her motives, but to examine why we are drawn to fictionalised onscreen portrayals of real lives, what it means to play a role authentically, and how accessible another's interiority can ever be to an outsider, be they friend or stranger, artistic interpreter or online ghoul.

We watch as Sheil struggles to close in on a real person to whom she bears little resemblance and about whom close to nothing is known. Sound frustrating? It is, but deliberately and cleverly so. Out of a sensational story, Greene and Sheil fashion a study of the loneliness of artistic endeavour and the bleak mystery left behind by suicide. The atmosphere is a little oppressive – Sheil, beautiful though she is to behold, projects an intense melancholy that makes her hard to connect with – but the project presents a beguiling challenge to the simplistic, exploitative tendencies of biopics.

Selected release from Fri 14 Oct.

Kate Plays Christine

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 52min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Robert Greene
  • Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil
  • UK release: 14 October 2016

A study of artistic endeavour, loneliness and cultural notoriety, with director Greene following actress Sheil as she prepares to play (in a non-existent film) real-life TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, who committed suicide during a live TV broadcast in 1974. Ambitious and beguiling, if oppressive.