Robert Greene’s documentary about a woman who succumbed to her inner demons feels dangerous: it pokes the bear, then slaps it. Christine Chubbuck was a 29-year-old newscaster living in Florida in the early 1970s. Notoriously (the documentary gets this out of the way early), Chubbuck arrived at work one day in July 1974 and shot herself in the head during a live broadcast.
Actress Kate Lyn Sheil (‘House of Cards’) prepares to play the role of Chubbuck in a film (that doesn’t exist) and heads down to the Sunshine State to dive into research. An especially pale New Yorker, she gets a spray tan. She tries on wigs. She swims out into the Gulf of Mexico, attempting to commune with something she only half understands. Chubbuck visited gun shops; so does Sheil.
But for all her attention to detail, Sheil says she thinks she’s failing. This isn’t a straight documentary – part of what makes the film so suggestive is the idea that we’re seeing a double performance pitted against our own prurient interests. There’s Sheil’s attempt to get into Chubbuck’s skin but also a sense that the actor might herself be fraying, pinned down by Greene’s unflinching eye and the pressure of honouring a cryptic mystery. And to what end? A snuff film? It can’t just be that. As for the movie’s final scene, you won’t witness something as confrontational all year: a yowl from beyond the grave.