In one of the more bizarre coincidences of film scheduling, the brief life of a TV journalist whose biggest scoop was announcing her own death on air is recapitulated for the second time this year. Released in August, Robert Greene's porous documentary Kate Plays Christine highlights the impossibility, even the absurdity, of trying to understand its ostensible subject, Christine Chubbuck, who shot herself in the back of the head in 1974 while reporting the morning news on an ABC affiliate in Sarasota, Florida. In contrast, Antonio Campos' straightforward biopic Christine, like most films in its genre, relies on excess: acting as extreme sport, period fetishism, signpost dialogue.
When we first see Christine -- who is played by Rebecca Hall, daubed with maquillage that is a little too grotesque, a little too late-period Joan Crawford -- she is seated at a table in the studio pretending to interview Richard Nixon. That suggests just how ambitious the 29-year-old journalist is, and possibly how deluded: As host of the community-affairs program Suncoast Digest, Chubbuck reported on strawberry festivals and interviewed chicken farmers.
But it is work that she takes pride in, extolling the virtues of her "issue-oriented, character-based pieces" to station manager Mike Nelson (Tracy Letts), who has begun to insist on more sensational news stories. Her posture too ostentatiously hunched, Hall moves as if the wide lapels of her blazers were secreted with 20-pound weights. By the end of Christine -- and of Christine -- the reporter is at once burdened with too many signifiers (is Chubbuck a tragic heroine of second-wave feminism? Of our current macabre newscape? Of untreated depression?) and a cipher.