THE BAR FLY
Kate Plays Christine
The final shot of Citizen Kane sums up everything about the movie, and yet, sums up nothing about it. Leading up to the secret reveal, we see the journalistic investigation of one reporter into the life of a media mogul, with a specific attempt at finding the meaning behind his last spoken word. Different perspectives tell of different personalities over different periods of time, complicating what is supposed to be a complex situation even further. In the end, the reporter laments that maybe, just maybe, a man can’t be summed up so easily.
Then, the film gives us the burning sled. Sure, it symbolizes a wanting to return to a simpler age. Sure, it presents a sad fading away of memory and innocence. But don’t forget what the reporter said. But, to romanticize one aspect would be doing a disservice and maybe border on exploitation. Is Citizen Kane guilty of giving us a spoon fed ending? Well, it had to end somehow… It teases us with an idea and puts an exclamation point on a tragic figure. I refuse to take that shot as a simple period, and I agree with not leaving us with a question mark.
Friend, I talk about the end to one of the all time greats because its message sums up everything and nothing about this year’s Kate Plays Christine, which also sums up everything and nothing about its central characters/people. This is not an easy film to describe, except to easily say that it is one of the best of 2016, and is the Citizen Kane of the docu-logical (documentary/psychological narrative hybrid) genre, if there is one. And I don’t make this comparison lightly, but I do make it with strong conviction.
This is a film about performance and possession. About life and legacy. About contrast and character. Kate Lyn Sheil (one of the leads in A Wonderful Cloud) has been cast in a project about Christine Chubbuck, a television reporter who famously/infamously shot and killed herself on a live local broadcast. It’s clear that Kate is not interested specifically with the way Christine ended herself, but she does acknowledge that it is the reason people would watch and make such a movie. There is a sadness Kate understands about this, and feels compelled and even a bit obligated to interpret. She moves with the production to Sarasota – the location where Christine lived and worked – and subsequently begins learning all she can. It’s a difficult process, having only articles and pictures to rely on (the footage itself has been kept hidden ever since broadcast), but Kate is game and gung ho.
Dressed in character, Kate goes to a gun shop to shoot a scene. While standing around, either improvising or just waiting, she is startled by an unrelated customer who himself is startled by her. She was so still and unnoticeable, he thought she was a mannequin. This comes up again in a beautiful dissolve from real Kate to Kate as Christine, where her face remains stiff and silent, before slowly moving her eyes. Does her life matter? Will the way she end it all matter? For Christine, yes, but also for Kate, these questions ring true, and are difficult and upsetting to answer.
Does she already know the answers? Do we? As you can guess, this is not a “feel good” story, or even one with tragedy underlined by hope. It is stark and unnerving. It is ominous and everlasting. Even napping after initial viewing was difficult, as my mind wandered into territories I prefer not to venture, for fear of learning something I couldn’t forget. Kate Lyn Sheil is more than willing to learn that something, and expose it for all to see. It is something inherent in all of us, but maybe buried just deeply enough to not disrupt the facade of our lives. Christine found it. Kate found it. We want to see it. Understand it? That’s different.
What Robert Greene and Kate Lyn Sheil have crafted here is nothing short of emotional horror, if only through brutal honesty. It’s a documentary style to be sure, but with an eye for deeper visual knowledge. Sometimes serendipitous, sometimes planned out. After some frustration with how a scene was going, audio of Kate meeting with a crew member is played during video of a rain-drenched bench. She calmly and with an apology in her voice explains how she shouted at everyone. It’s short, but the atmosphere of the environment shown lines up all too well with Kate’s intimate conversation and overall demeanor.
Whenever we see footage of the project Kate is working on, at least two and as many as three perspectives are expressed: The filmmaker, the scene itself, and Kate. She goes through multiple takes, one after another, putting herself and being put by the director through a repetitious ringer. We begin to not only grapple with her stress as an actress, but Christine’s presumed anxieties too. That feeling of working or doing something over and over only to get the same results. It could truly drive one into a wall.
Kate visits Christine’s former home, and in a quiet and truly scary sequence she walks from room to room, almost trying to feel through her feet and her body. Then, she opens a double door setup, walks through, comes up to the camera, looks beyond, and stops. It is in this moment Kate has decided what she wants to do for the final scene. The lines between now and then, between actor and character, between real and dramatized, blur heavily.
Where does Kate end and Christine begin? Or vice versa? Where does Director Robert Greene begin and the audience end? The very blood thirsty audience wanting to see the suicidal footage? Or even the suicidal reenactment? Who is “in control” of the scene?
Christine Chubbuck’s very public death inspired Network, which Kate wonderfully points out rewrote Christine as an elderly madman. However, what that movie, what this movie, and what Christine herself got right to a point was in how everyone else – from the masses to the TV executives and producers – were downright behaving worse. We are not a healthy culture of people. We are absolutely ugly. We care about that single moment of gratification more than the fallout from it. 3 Guys 1 Hammer reaction videos will show that. Could that have been Christine’s fate? To be relegated to a youtube punchline? Kate Plays Christine does right by shifting the context of the finale from “she’s gonna do it” to “will she do it?”, “why did she?”, and “what else is on?”. It points a finger without wagging it and without forgetting its own complicity. It’s heightened awareness is shocking. It’s a movie that is as depthful as it is revelatory.
Why do we need things wrapped up so neatly? Because it feels good. Does a story HAVE to feel good? No. It should feel right. That’s Citizen Kane. That’s Kate Plays Christine.