the obliteration of self, the traumatic violence to self, the loss of consciousness and of control
BTW, Kate Lyn Sheil很不错！！
Greene is a documentary filmmaker whose work on the subject of performance, in “Fake It So Real” and “Actress,” pierces the artificial boundary of drama and documentary. （反思电影与表演的电影主题，穿透了剧情片与纪录片的人造边界）Kate is the actress Kate Lyn Sheil, one of the best and most original young American actresses, who has appeared in such films as “Silver Bullets,” “Sun Don’t Shine,” and “Men Go to Battle” (which she co-wrote). Christine is Christine Chubbuck, the television journalist who committed suicide by shooting herself in the head during her live broadcast of July 15, 1974, at a television station in Sarasota, Florida.
“Kate Plays Christine” is, in effect, the story of how an actor prepares—and how that preparation becomes a performance in itself.
Greene asks Sheil to portray Chubbuck in a dramatization of her last days. Sheil and the filmmaker travel from New York to Sarasota, where she engages in research to learn about Chubbuck’s life and work, and Greene, with the cinematographer Sean Price Williams, films Sheil pursuing those investigations, which include interviews with as many of Chubbuck’s former colleagues as she can track down.
Meanwhile, Sheil also undertakes the material labors integral to the role. The blue-eyed actress gets fitted for brown contact lenses to match Chubbuck’s eye color; she gets fitted for a resplendent dark wig to match Chubbuck’s hair style; she subjects herself to a spray tan; she visits area stores in search of accessories to decorate a bedroom like Chubbuck’s own (one that was filled with stuffed animals and resembled a child’s); and—in a crucial sidebar that nearly takes over the film—she visits a gun shop to acquire the appropriate weapon for the role. In the process, Sheil and the shop owner (whose store is the very one where Chubbuck purchased her own pistol) walk through the procedure, on camera, of determining a buyer’s eligibility. (Of course, it’s a comically simple process, with no background check involved.) Soon thereafter, Sheil takes her newly acquired handgun to a gun range and does some target practice.
One amazing detail that emerges from Sheil’s discussions with former colleagues of Chubbuck’s is that Chubbuck had, unusually, asked her technical staff to videotape her show that day. Sheil inquired about the existence of the tape, which has never been shown. The closest she gets to the tape is the assertion by a former colleague that it’s locked away somewhere, in the possession of a woman whose father owned the Sarasota station at the time of the incident. Through this process, Sheil doesn’t so much incarnate Chubbuck as take upon herself fragments of Chubbuck’s existence. She becomes a sort of living mosaic, projecting onto herself the shards of Chubbuck’s material and emotional life, attempting to reflect her states of mind as well as her physical appearance and behavior. Greene and Sheil seem to conjure, in the present day, not only Chubbuck’s phantom presence but that of the missing link in the story: the videotape of Chubbuck’s final broadcast.
Greene blends an investigative and a subjective approach （观察研究+代入体验的）to the story of Chubbuck’s life and death, refracting her experience through Sheil’s research and efforts at emotional as well as factual reconstruction. Ultimately, “Kate Plays Christine” subjects the very status of dramatic representation to a severe moral and aesthetic test, one far more stringent and comprehensive than a mere comparison of the factual record to the elements of fiction. Greene’s analytical critique of dramatization reflects the more commonplace reliance on a nonfiction record as a touchstone for drama—a reliance that risks tripping up true-story Hollywood films on the road to awards. The recent shift of drama in the direction of nonfiction is rooted in the shifting status of journalism, as well as in instantaneous access (thanks to the Internet) to firsthand accounts, documents, and analyses of contemporary and historical events.
Antonio Campos’s film “Christine,” which opened last Friday at Film Forum and nationwide, is the second one this year about its title character, following Robert Greene’s documentary “Kate Plays Christine.” Campos’s film stars Rebecca Hall in a drama based on the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter for a Sarasota television station who, on July 15, 1974, while reading the news from the studio desk, committed suicide by shooting herself in the head. Campos’s film is a straightforward drama, following Christine (the character, to distinguish her from the real-life Chubbuck) through the troubled events of the last few months of her life, condensing them and organizing them so that they culminate in the one action for which Chubbuck is remembered.
Campos, working with a script by Craig Shilowich, makes each of those events blatantly exemplary of Christine’s personal problems, which he lines up like dominoes—her frustration at work, her frustration in love, her unspecified mental illness, her ovarian cyst, her conflicts with her mother, her work-imposed preoccupation with violence, and her seemingly incurable social and physical awkwardness. These dominoes drop successively and lead, as if inevitably, to Christine’s suicide.
工作困境：厌倦blood and guts
A serious journalist with grand investigative ambitions and a sharp sense of community engagement, Chubbuck sought to report on issues that affected lives (such as a zoning change that would affect residents’ medical coverage). But, under pressure from its news director (played by Tracy Letts) to increase ratings, the station’s reporting veered toward the sensational and toward crime—which is why, in her on-air suicide note, Chubbuck referred derisively to “Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts.”
As depicted by Campos, Christine was lonely—she was a twenty-nine-year-old virgin who craved romance and, in particular, had an unrequited crush on a colleague named George (Michael C. Hall), who rejected her and was involved with another woman on the news staff, Andrea (Kim Shaw). She had medical issues—she had had an ovary removed, which, she was told, would make it difficult for her to conceive a child. She suffered from depression and had been treated for it. Christine is depicted as socially awkward—contentious, sarcastic, detached, clumsy in conversation, insensitive to social cues; her on-air presence similarly tended to be stiff and unemotional. She shared a house with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), but their relationship was stressful and riddled with conflict. Christine’s frustrated ambitions combined with her romantic ones when George and Andrea were being promoted and sent together to a bigger station in Baltimore, a major market.
Christine’s immensely sympathetic camera operator, Jean (Maria Dizzia), tries to help her through her work, but Jean has ambitions of her own, and her far more perceptive, if conventional, news skills get her ahead of Christine at the station. George, expressing friendship if not romantic interest, takes Christine to dinner and then to a transactional-analysis workshop at which Christine is prompted, by her partner in one of the exercises, to blurt out her interconnected skein of insurmountable problems that, above all, are rooted in her own prickly character.
The narrow scope and narrow determinism of the action in “Christine” is unfortunately matched by the narrow—albeit immensely skillful and committed—acting that Campos elicits from Hall. More or less any time there’s a problem with acting, it’s actually a problem with directing. The best directors can get a complex performance, emblematized in iconic moments and symbolic inflections and gestures, from almost anyone. With an actor of Hall’s power, Campos could and should have left viewers shuddering with the shattering force of the conflicts that were wrenching Christine from life. Instead, her precisely calculated and overly specific performance leaves a sense of manipulated pity and a shrug of confirmation. The scenes in Campos’s film add up (and do nothing but add up), and the performance that he gets from Hall puts the numbers in their places. Nonetheless, it’s easy to imagine that an actor with a more overt sense of tense energy, such as Hilary Swank or Angelina Jolie, could have burst through Campos’s schema to transform the role by way of sheer temperament—of the very insubordination and uncompromising vision that doomed Christine.
That insubordination, the actor’s resistance to direction, is the very subject of Greene’s “Kate Plays Christine.” Kate is Kate Lyn Sheil, an actor who is among the most inspired of the younger generation that has come up by way of independent films (as in Joe Swanberg’s “Silver Bullets”); perhaps her most prominent showcase is her supporting role in Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan’s series “The Girlfriend Experience.” She’s also the co-writer of Zachary Treitz’s Western “Men Go to Battle,” and the full panoply of her experience comes to the fore in Greene’s film. It begins with a wavering faux-archival video of Sheil, playing Christine Chubbuck, being outfitted with a prosthetic tube of blood and preparing to perform the scene of the on-air suicide, as the soundtrack features an actual and contemporaneous news report about that event.
In effect, the entire film is a flashback from that crucial moment of performance—because that scene, dramatizing Chubbuck’s suicide, is the raison d’être of Greene’s film about Chubbuck. Recognizing that a film about Chubbuck is a film about her on-air suicide, Greene centers “Kate Plays Christine” on the very possibility and difficulty of re-creating the videotape of the event, which is known to exist but has never been made public.
Tapped by Greene to play the role of Christine, Sheil travels to Sarasota (followed by Greene’s camera, wielded by Sean Price Williams, whose cinematography is a cornerstone of the contemporary independent cinema) to undertake research into Chubbuck’s life and to prepare to play the role of Christine. When I saw “Kate Plays Christine” at the time of its Sundance première, I discussed it as an “analytical critique of dramatization.” While in Sarasota, Sheil visits places that Chubbuck frequented, talks with people who knew Chubbuck, and sees a tape—not, of course, the one of her suicide—of Chubbuck on the air. By means of preparing to play a journalist, Sheil becomes, in effect, a journalist, and her virtual portraiture of Chubbuck, creating an image in the viewer’s mind of Christine in her time and place, is more vivid, inspired, troubling, and enduring than the one that Campos brings dramatically to the screen. For instance, it’s in her research, not in her dramatization, that Sheil conjures forcefully, to the mind’s eye, the scene of Chubbuck’s suicide: she locates and reads aloud from an article in the Washington Post, by Sally Quinn, that includes a shockingly explicit description of Chubbuck’s shooting.
Yet there’s an aspect of “Kate Plays Christine” that I didn’t previously address, one that I was reminded of by a superb essay on these two films by Miriam Bale in The New Republic. There, she says, “The villain in Greene’s film is Greene himself,” as a director who attempts sympathetically but inadequately to make a film of Chubbuck’s life—and whose efforts arouse Sheil’s onscreen resistance. The actress contests Greene’s direction and, especially, his non-direction, his improvisational methods. In effect, the movie that Greene tries to make with Sheil is a mumblecore bio-pic, in which he brings about a series of situations within which, on the basis of her research and her ideas, Sheil would improvise the dialogue along with other actors in the scenes.
I wouldn’t call Greene’s effort villainy; I’d call it acting. “Kate Plays Christine” is also Greene playing Campos, or any other director who would and could make a familiarly styled and conventionally dramatized bio-pic about Chubbuck—any other director who’d have the temerity to dramatize the life of Christine Chubbuck for the purpose of dramatizing her death. Kate plays Christine because she’s hired by Greene to do so; it’s not her life’s passion. Greene directs a drama about Christine in order to have the feeling of doing so, of being the kind of director who’d do so. He directs the dramatic sequences of “Kate Plays Christine” as hypothetically, as conditionally, and as tentatively as Sheil performs them.
The greatest moment in “Kate Plays Christine” is Sheil’s discussion with two of Chubbuck’s former colleagues from the TV station, Steve Newman and Gordon Galbraith. Just before showing Sheil an archival videotape of Chubbuck doing an on-air interview, Newman questions the very premise for ongoing interest in Chubbuck, saying, “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the way she ended her life.” He added that her life and her work weren’t particularly extraordinary—that the sole extraordinary aspect of her life is her death, and, if it weren’t for her on-air suicide, there wouldn’t be a bio-pic or a documentary about her. It’s that very no-reason that makes “Kate Plays Christine”—and Kate playing Christine—a moving and dramatic accomplishment.
Sheil, troubled by what seems to her a sensationalistic and bloodthirsty premise for a movie, and an equally dubious conclusion for one, is all the more troubled by the prospect of enacting Chubbuck’s suicide for Greene’s camera. But she tries to go through with it nonetheless—she puts on the costume, the dark contact lenses, and the wig; she’s outfitted with the blood-spurt rig, the tube that snakes up through her dress to the back of her head. She does the scene, but she can’t get herself to pull the trigger and tells Greene, “I can’t do it. You have to tell me why you want to see it.” She continues, with mounting anger, “I keep looking for a reason… If you want to see me do it, you have to tell me why; give me a fucking reason!”
Sheil tries again and stops short again. Then, in fury, exasperation, and resignation, saying, “Fuck it, it’s all bullshit anyway,” she pulls the trigger and, with that very combination of spontaneously arising personal emotions, does a fuller, richer, more detailed and more troubling job of dramatizing Chubbuck’s suicide than does Hall in “Christine.”
Sheil comes closer to the obliteration of self, the traumatic violence to self, the loss of consciousness and of control that Quinn describes in her contemporaneous report.
Greene has no more reason than Campos does to film Christine, beside the effort to supplement the absent image of Chubbuck’s suicide, a premise that Greene makes clear and Campos doesn’t.
Yet, against all odds and despite the dramatic triteness that afflicts “Christine,” Campos nonetheless provides one good reason, and it’s one that leaps out from the confines of his drama to leave an enduring mark. He finds, in “Christine,” something in Chubbuck’s life that emerges solely through his directorial touches, and, though those touches are realized without too much imagination and in ways that downplay their symbolic significance, it comes through nonetheless: Christine’s desire to look at herself.
“Christine” begins with Christine’s study of a videotape she made, a mock studio interview of then-President Nixon (she was actually talking to an empty chair). Christine watches and re-watches that tape, ostensibly in order to improve her interviewing skills and on-air appeal; yet, in the course of the film, her watching of images of herself comes off rather as an end in itself. Christine repeatedly studies videotapes and filmed images of herself; she even holds a strip of 16-mm. film up to the light and looks at herself, on location, in it. When she brings a new video deck and camera home in order to learn how to use it, the first thing she does is to turn the camera around to her face and stare into it.
One of the pivots of Christine’s ambitions, in “Christine,” is her idea for a new kind of news report, a kind of “docudrama,” she says, that would get behind the news and into people’s lives. The closest she comes to realizing it is a report on a fire, in which, rather than focussing on the damage and the rescue, she lets its victim (who also caused the fire) speak at length, in close-up, about how it happened. At the same time, Christine, who volunteers at a children’s hospital, does puppet shows for the young patients—but, as her own troubles overwhelm her, the shows take on a psychodramatic and confessional air. The subject whom Christine seems most to want to see on camera, in docudramatic close-up, is herself. She appears to have been not a journalist but an artist whose art forms and media hadn’t yet been invented. Video art, YouTube, independent films—even selfies—might have redeemed her talent and incarnated her ideas. (The recent movie that comes much closer than “Christine” to realizing such a character in depth is “Welcome to Me,” starring Kristen Wiig.) It emerges, in both “Kate Plays Christine” and “Christine,” that the videotape of Chubbuck’s suicide exists only because she herself asked, exceptionally, for her broadcast to be videotaped that day. That tape, which, according to Newman, belongs to the widow of the station’s owner, is perhaps the one that Christine would most want to watch, over and over, studying herself in death as she never could in life. Unlike “Christine,” “Kate Plays Christine” is the sort of film in which Christine could have played herself.