Updated: May 23, 2021
Fans of that superb 1976 media satire Network will likely be familiar with the tragic story of a certain Christine Chubbock. The culmination of that films ends with murder - a live murder on TV. Ratings literally to die for. Watching Network leads one on to the shocking discovery that truth can indeed be more shocking than fiction . . .
Back in July of 1974 news presenter Christine Chubbock sat at her desk in the studios of a Florida TV company, read out the day's news as usual before pulling out a pistol from beneath the desk where she sat and which she used to blow her brains out. As far as can be ascertained, it was the first suicide to be captured on live television. Had it not been for the (flimsy) connection to Network, the events of that grisly day might have been forgotten for ever.
As the years tick by the sheer elusiveness of the case attracts ever more interest. There is something so pitiable about this story it is almost impossible not to be drawn in.
The 2016 documentary Kate Plays Christine follows actress Kate Lyn Shell as she attempts to discover more about the woman whom she is about to portray. We are left with tantalising glimpses of a life cut short. Shell struggles to get her head around around this extraordinarily complex character. Human life is wrought with problems, but why would someone choose to end their life in such an explicit manner? It is this question which intrigues and baffles in equal parts, and which I suppose accounts for much of the interest in this long ago tragedy.
In the same year of 2016 Christine the movie was released. This full-length feature stars Rebecca Hall as the doomed journalist. And wow, what a performance. Hall's portrayal of a woman profoundly disappointed with life, unlucky in both personal and private spheres, is quite simply mesmerising. Somehow she manages to portray both sides of the character simultaneously: sensitivity and fragility on the one hand juxtaposed against a certain intensity manifest in a sometimes pugnacious exterior which one senses might be a protective barrier.
I've not encountered a character this complex since Hamlet. Sharing a home with her mother, about to turn thirty, it's almost as if this undeniably intelligent woman can't quite face an adult world where idealism is so often shattered. Life can only ever disappoint the idealist. Never-been-kissed Christine it transpires always wanted to be a wife and mother. Perhaps she dreamed of the simple life she had read about in the pages of fiction and which always hands happily ever after. 1970s Florida could not be any different.
Director Antonio Campos captures life in this milieu rather well. Life at the local television station where Christine works as a broadcast journalist is humdrum enough, but the pressure to produce more gutsy content for consumers of TV news has begun in earnest, anathema to a thoughtful soul such as Christine. 'If it bleeds, it leads,' declares the hard-boiled head of the station to staff one day.
And so a story of unfulfilment unrolls. From the little footage that exists of Chubbock, Hall pulls off an extraordinary performance. Her Christine is emotionally vulnerable, highly-strung and yet so very innocent that the viewer wants to put their arms around her, to give her a hug and whisper to her that everything will be ok.
But it won't. Christine knows this better than anyone. Like Hamlet there's something about Christine Chubbock that makes one realise that some people are not equipped to handle the vagaries of life. Watching events unfold to what one knows is the most horrific ending possible is to force one's imagination into places it can't possibly go. And yet the desire to do so is so very strong.
Just thinking about this story makes me want to invent a time machine, fly back to 15, July 1974 and scoop Christine up into the arms. Now who's being unrealistic?
Along with Bad Timing, Pauline a la Plage, Vivre Pour Vivre. Zabriskie Point and The Shout, Christine (2016) goes straight into my top ten films of all time.