Thursday, June 22, 2017

Christine Didn't Make It

This is Christine Chubbuck coming to you live from WZRB in Sarasota, back to you George.
I don't usually take a somber tone, I mean 99% of what I say and write is sarcasm. But I watched a movie recently that really affected me, and I've seen quite a few of those. Contemporarily speaking, this was perhaps the most overlooked film of this past year. It's called Christine starring Rebecca Hall as the titular character of Christine Chubbuck who is famous for shooting herself on air at the network where she worked. Rebecca Hall could very well be the most underrated actress of our time. People kind of lost interest in her after she was upstaged by Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Christina, Barcelona
It's one of those films that makes you immediately go on Wikipedia because you think to yourself that no way is this based on a true story, but it is. The tragedy of Christine is very much steered by the patriarchy that is constantly in her way. The film is meditative and a strong character piece and if you don't know what happens in the climax it can seem to drag, and yet Hall carries it so brilliantly. 
Christine is a co-anchor at some local station in Sarasota, Florida…jealous? And she's interested in positive human interest stories, alas her boss doesn't give a shit because it doesn't sell. One could say that it's the female Nightcrawler but the opposite of that. She doesn't want to sensationalize the news, in fact she calls it exploitative.
'Jesus Christ, just make your stories juicy!'
What's truly tragic is that she is optimistic to the very end. In the opening scene (this film takes place in the 70's btw) she imagines she's interviewing Richard Nixon, knowing she'll never even get close. We learn throughout the film that she lives with her mother, and about to hit 30, is still a virgin. She hates pot smoking, which her mother regularly engages in, and has a general disdain for the shall we say 'free love' of the times. She is so determined to not be famous per se, but to succeed in the job that she so much loves to do; a job dominated by male culture. She even volunteers at a children's hospital and is desperate for human connection. The lead anchor she frequently works with is the handsome George played my Michael C. Hall, whom she is desperately in love with, but because of her awkward workaholic demeanor, she doesn't really have a chance until he invites her out to dinner only to tell her that despite her hard work and cooperation with the whole 'if it bleeds it leads' attitude the station has taken on, that George has been promoted to anchor in Baltimore in a top 20 market over her. What makes it worse is that he was able to choose someone to take with him and surprise surprise it's not her. Things are made worse when she find out that she a cyst on her ovary and the entire thing has to come out. 
The fake flowers that symbolize a lot more than you think. 
Over time, Christine realizes that everything is working against her. We don't really get a sense that she's suicidal but we get clues that she has some mental issues that are only exasperated by her circumstances. 
Aside from Hall, it's the direction of the movie that is truly special. The camera follows her into an abyss surrounded by 70's glamour. There is a brilliant scene where she's clearly distracted in an interview on air by the fake flowers on her desk. She abruptly stops the interview and throws the flowers at the camera operator saying that it's all she can think about right now. 
I suppose there's a tenacious stubbornness to her that a lot of us, especially women can relate to. She works in a highly sexist environment where her abstaining from drinking and partying is looked upon as weird and she herself is looked upon as aloof. The amount of time she spends working shows how passionate she is, but left and right she is shut down even when she is cooperative. Her boss has nothing but disdain for her, and they are at odds almost constantly.
The way the film is directed, we can see that not only is Christine at the end of her rope towards the climax, but she sees no other way out. We don't see the gun, not really. We see it in her bag, but we don't see her staring at it contemplating what she's about to do, which is the lazy way out. 
Her final and only revenge is to put on a very false and somewhat creepy facade by going to her boss' office and asking to be lead on the following Monday about the weekend news. She promises that it will be sensational, and in the most prophetic and unforgettable way, through the strangest smile she tells him; 'I'm agreeing with you'.
The real Christine Chubbuck
I've already told you what ends up happening to Christine, and sometimes when you're not quite ready for that moment even though you know that it's coming, you need to see it again. But I couldn't watch this again. It was directed so viscerally that I literally jumped …off of the exercise equipment I was on, but give me a break. 
Back to Hall, I really thought she'd be at least nominated, but the film was small, the film was dark, and if anyone should have won, it should have been Natalie Portman for her haunting portrayal of Jackie Kennedy, but Hall needs to be acknowledged not only for the aesthetics of Christine; the walking style, the hair, the mannerisms, etc. But it was one in a few times where an actor inhabits a character so intimately that it really bothers you. You want so much to know what's going on inside Christine's head and her descent into making the decision that she finally does, and yet you don't want to know; that's great acting. Hall did Christine Chubbuck justice in a subdued, understated performance of a woman who is pushed into a corner by her male colleagues and no matter how hard she fights and how much she compromises, she feels that she's left with no choice and no other way out. And there's a strangeness in that part of you that actually does understand that.

Trailer below, streaming on Netflix, highly recommended.

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