Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia
Director: Antonio Campos
In 1970’s Florida, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) a broadcast news journalist, shot herself on live TV. This film shows the events leading up to her tragic decision.
Christine was a woman struggling with depression, isolation and her need to succeed as a serious reporter in a time when sensationalism was starting to take over professionalism. But there is more to it than that, and this film explores her life, how difficult she was, how she pushed people away, and how no one saw her final act coming. It also asks a lot of questions, the mystery of Chubbuck will always remain, because there is so much about her that is now unknowable.
The film itself, with it’s 70’s styling and music, captures an era that is both just yesterday and also a lifetime ago. Rebecca Hall inhabits the role beautifully, being both awkward and hard, but never truly unlikable. Christine is able to just fit in, mostly coming across to others as overly driven and emotional, like an over grown innocent, which perhaps makes it all the more understandable that no one really saw her actions coming. The supporting cast are all very solid, too, creating a world around her of three dimensional characters. It’s not an easy film to watch in many ways, and for obvious reasons, but it’s neither maudlin, mawkish or preachy. It just is. And therein lies it’s charm.
See It If: you like true stories or character studies, it’s a great film. But those of you who are romantics but be gutted by the end.
Q&A With Lead Actress Rebecca Hall
I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening at the Curzon Soho which Rebecca Hall attended, and she was asked a few questions about the film.
On watching the film again:
“There was a certain, um, physical way that my body was during that time of shooting it that whether or not I like it my neck starts to cramp up. I’ve got a really nasty tension headache right now. I like watching it though… I think it’s a genuinely great film. I really believe that when I watch it. I like watching it as objectively as I can, obviously.”
Why this story about Christine Chubbock and why it’s a surprising film:
“The reason for making the film in a way is because if you don’t, her life is that two line synopsis. And that’s not fair, on anyone. What she did was shocking and horrible and she shouldn’t have done it but, to reduce her to a shocking act and take away her humanity is not a fair thing to do. I was frightened by it, for sure. Because if you don’t read the script and you just get told what it’s about then you sort of go… you sort of think, ok what’s this going to be like and then I read it and I was very moved by it.”
How much thought did you give to taking on this role?
“None at all… Lots! Lots! It took me a long time. I went and had a meeting with the director and the writer because you know I read it and one of the things that struck me was it’s very unusual. I don’t mean that it’s unusual for there to be film with female leads, I know there are a lot of them out there. It’s unusual for this sort of a female lead to have a film. And this sort of a female lead to have this sort of a character and this sort of a take on a woman and so I was slightly mystified that two blokes had decided to make it and I sort of wanted to know where they were coming from really. You know, why they wanted to do it. So I went and had a meeting with them and that was sort of the decider. And it was very much them interviewing me as well, there was nothing to suggest in my body of work that I was the right choice for this, not really. You know, I’m not a girl from Ohio or whatever.”
How did you create her voice and sound?
“I had 15 minutes of footage of her speaking, and so I based the voice a lot on that. Cos I listened to it a lot. And you know she sounded fairly idiosyncratic. I tried to make that real, and more than just the sum parts of what someone performing on TV sounds like.”
Are there a lot of parallels that can be drawn between that time in the 70’s and now?
“It’s a strangely… we didn’t realise at the time we were making it how, er, sort of poignant it would be, but there’s that thing about how every period film that it made says something about the time in which it’s set but it says something as meaningful about the time in which it was decided to be made. And I think that really is true in this instance. I mean the the parallels are.. I mean, I don’t have that much sense of 70’s America outside of watching films. But those films that were made at that time, they say something about that time, that era, and they have a real paranoiac quality. There’s a real sense of the world is changing and nobody really knows where that going and what’s happening. You’re coming out of the 60’s, and the stakes are life or death, and for the first time there’s violence of people’s television because of Vietnam. It’s the golden age of journalism in many ways with Watergate, you have a president who’s trying to discredit the media, I don’t have to be more explicit about these things I guess. The moment is resonant.”If it bleeds it leads” journalism and the whole culture of moving towards reality TV as it were kicks of in the 70’s.”
The film looks at the mental health of Christine, but doesn’t give a lot of answers.
“Well the truth is it would have been an exercise in telling you a bunch of false certainties. We don’t know. And it’s reductive. I think the film does something really remarkable, it asks you to look at someone in the way that her colleagues and the people around her would look at her. You’re very close to her and you feel something for her, but you don’t know the full story and you don’t know why and you don’t know what’s going on but you’re still asked to sympathize. And that’s, I think, a really important artistic exercise, more so in a way that sort of giving a reductive explanation or saying she did this because of this or that, this holds all of the things that are fundamentally unknowable about someone. Because we are all unknowable. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel, and we don’t feel sympathy and we can’t reach out and help someone even if we don’t know what’s going on.”
Chubbock was engaged in an unforgiving career under the eye of the camera lens.
“I think that’s what makes her story so fascinating is that she chooses a profession that’s for someone who’s so socially awkward and who finds it so difficult to be out there she chooses a profession where she is on display. And in a sense she is performing herself in many different ways. And what separates her from any of us from going have I woken up today and am I doing a good job of being me? You know I might not be doing very well at being me today. And hers is that in sort of extremis. And she’s constantly performing what she thinks is normal. And she’s almost “I’m not going to exist unless I’m in front of a camera”. There’s such deep fear of showing herself, coupled with this ironic need to truly reveal herself.”
Selfhood in Christine
“You know when I was doing this I found myself more than with other jobs taking a lot of selfies. I don’t normally take a lot of selfies as a practice, I mean maybe if I’m checking my make up, I’m going to be completely honest with you. But there was something in knowing that Christine needed to be seen by a camera to exist. And the sort of ultimate extreme progression of that to reveal the truth about herself. That she can’t make it in the world, that she can’t survive in the world, and to show that. So the moment that she, in her head, that she does exist to the world is simultaneously the moment that she ceases to exist. I kept thinking about that. As an idea. And I suppose I kept trying to think about myself in the third person as it were, and I suppose that taking selfies was a part of that.”
On creating a character based on a real person
“I was completely committed to doing right by a real person. Whatever that meant. And often as an actor that means being true, and you have to find your way to truth. Because it’s not necessarily an uncanny impersonation, it’s often where it strikes a chord with you, and how you make that real and how you make that real for everyone else around you. I had very little to go on and at the same time I had everything. You know when you meet someone for the first time you can intuit so much about them, you can feel so… that sort of that response of empathy or compassion, or whatever that is. Human to human understanding. That’s what I wanted to work from. So I used that 15 minutes of footage and that’s really enough. I could intuit so much and feel so much. So then it was just a matter of now I’ve got to address my feelings and make that into a person who makes sense. But it all comes from that empathy, from that place of feeling or intuiting something about someone.”
On what drew writer Craig Shilowich to the story
“The funny thing was when we were making the film, the writer, there’s a lot of Craig Shilowich in Christine. He went through a 10 year battle with depression and one of the things that got him out of it, alongside good care and good medication and what have you, was finding out what he wanted to do for a living, his work. So he came to Christine in this very unusual way. He was researching something else entirely, and he found her story online, in the 5 Most Shocking whatever lists and he read the synopsis, and he had this very very strong connection with it, because he thought, my God, imagine what I would have gone through if I’d gone through what I’d gone through, but I’d been a woman, in the 70’s in a hostile work environment, and then I had that work, which I loved, taken away from me. Would I have made it? I don’t know. That was really the question that drove the whole basis of the film. What is it that separates? We all know what it’s like to have a bad day, we all know what it’s like to feel isolated, we all know what it’s like to feel depressed. But they’re quite arbitrary, the things that separate us from the people who don’t have the tools to make it without help. It’s brain chemistry, it’s in this case, social context, time and place, gender. I mean they’re all arbitrary things, is what I’m saying. So that thing of asking an audience to contemplate how close am I to this person who seems so far away and who did this crazy thing. How close am I really to them? That’s sort of the exercise of the film.”
Are the people Christine worked with alive and did they got involved with the film?
“Craig went to Sarasota and some other places and found as many of her work colleagues that he could. He wanted to predominantly make a workplace drama so the things that aren’t factually accurate in the film are mostly by omission, like there are members of her family that aren’t in the film. For sensitive reasons, rather than anything else. He spoke to a lot of them. There was one, I didn’t, I met one of them afterwards. A lot of them aren’t around anymore. There was one guy who was an intern in 1974, he was 19 and he was reportedly Christine’s closest friend. And reportedly the person that she went to and said I’m thinking of doing this thing, wouldn’t it be funny if.. And Craig looked everywhere to find this guy, and couldn’t find him, therefore decided to leave that whole section out of the film. Like he did with all of that sort of thing. And then afterwards when we were in post-production and it was all wrapped, and we were looking for someone to cut the trailer, they started interviewing different trailer houses. And someone called up Craig, who is also a sort of producer, and (said) I own the trailer company that cut all these prestigious trailers, and I just watched Christine, and I want to cut this one, because I love it. It’s a great film. And Craig said well, thank you so much! How did you come to it? And he said, well I was 19 in Sarasota, Florida and I was Christine’s best friend.
And I met him at the premiere in LA and I had no idea it was him. And he just turned around, tapped me on the shoulder and he just said: thank you. Because he left the station, he left Sarasota and he changed his name, in fact, and he didn’t really speak about that event, or process that or deal with what it meant to him for 30 years and the film helped him. Anyway, I tell that story because it’s possibly the best and the only validation that I could ever hope to have in making this film, honestly.”
Christine is out in UK cinemas today.