by Sam C. Mac Film Horizon Line

Kate Plays Christine | Robert Greene

August 24, 2016

Kate Plays Christine offers an intriguing setup at the expense of an ultimately unjustified exploitation. Director Robert Greene invites actress Kate Lyn Sheil to perform a series of dramatic recreations in the life of the late news reporter Christine Chubbuck, who’s known to some, if known at all, for committing suicide before a live TV audience in 1974—an act which inspired Sidney Lumet’s seminal news media satire Network. Much of Greene’s film involves Sheil’s preparation process: she gets a spray tan, tries on wigs, reads aloud from the script she’s been given, and generally spends a lot of time bemoaning her limited access to any material that might give her an idea of who Chubbuck actually was (no video footage at all of the woman is available online, let alone footage of her infamous suicide). Later, Sheil routinely challenges Greene, and the various other actors he’s hired for the project, as she struggles to find any meaning in what he’s doing—and, ultimately, in the life of Chubbuck herself.

It’s important to remember, though, that Chubbuck was a real person, one who really committed suicide. This becomes problematic when we realize that Greene seems uninterested in engaging her legacy, but rather with using it as a springboard for exploring Sheil’s and his own agendas. That preference leads to scenes like Kate Plays Christine‘s egregious finale—which is Network by way of Michael Haneke. While the truth or fiction behind that scene and many others here is up for some debate, an earlier one of Sheil seems earnest and to be taken as intended. Detailing her attraction to the ambitions of Greene’s film, Sheil explains that she’s sick of being praised as an actress for her “subtlety.” This admission in turn serves as something of a tell: Kate Plays Christine is a work of substantial effort, but it’s also one that seems less interested in the actual provocation of thought than in earning due recognition for inciting it.

Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2016.