Perhaps because last year was an unusually good one for film, the movie Christine largely fell under the radar. Christine is a biopic about Christine Chubbuck, the local TV newscaster in Sarasota, Florida, who shot herself in the head during a newscast on July 15, 1974, becoming the first person to ever commit suicide on live television. Chubbuck’s suicide became a national news story at the time, helped inspire Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay for Network (1976), and was, oddly, also the subject of another film that was released last year, Kate Plays Christine.
The film Christine manages to avoid two obvious potential pitfalls of a film about Christine Chubbuck: pat biopic clichés and a lurid focus on Christine’s death. In fact, very little is known about the real Christine Chubbuck. Footage of her suicide, though rumored to exist, has never surfaced. Very little footage of her other television work apparently survives. And the private Christine Chubbuck remains a mysterious figure. Christine‘s screenwriter Craig Shilowich has compared the process of writing the character of Christine to the Jurassic Park‘s imagined recreation of dinosaurs from drops of blood found in insects encased in amber.
Out of the shards of available material about Chubbuck’s life, Shilowich, director Antonio Campos, and Rebecca Hall, who plays Christine, managed to create a subtle and searing portrait of mental illness. Shilowich imagined Christine‘s title character as both bipolar and, perhaps, suffering from a form of borderline personality disorder. Hall plays her in a way that is simultaneously off-putting and deeply sympathetic. But in addition to being an effective character study, Christine is also a film that explores a particular milieu at a particular time, a local TV newsroom in the mid-1970s. And I am going to focus on Christine‘s image of the 1970s in this post. Continue reading