The reason this film exists can be put down to the same reasoning that led Christine Chubbuck, a small-town TV journalist from Sarasota, to kill herself on-air in 1974. We’re fascinated by death. We have a gruesome attraction to fatality, especially deaths that are uncommon, bizarre and exotic. Even if the person who died did not lead a remarkable life, if they died in a way we rarely hear about (or see), then they will be remembered. They will be memorialised.
Kate Plays Christine is all about the ethical concerns of this kind of memorialising. It wonders aloud why Christine Chubbuck mattered if not for the way she died, and the answers are hard to come by. Kate Lyn Sheil painstakingly researches Chubbuck’s life, as she is going to play her in a new “film,” and soon learns that she has to build this woman from almost nothing at all. No videos exist of her that can be found online; her infamous suicide tape will likely never be released to the public. She has only a few still images of her, and all she can do is recreate her look and read what anecdotes about her are available. Her wigmaker comments on Chubbuck’s picture and the sadness of her face. She was, we learn, a woman suffering from mental illness and constant rejection. She had few allies. One of her few acquaintances who appears in the film says that she was easy to joke around with, but that she was not the greatest of interviewers. He plays a clip from her talk show—perhaps the first and last time we will ever hear Chubbuck’s voice—and his assessment is not far off the mark. She is steely, unsmiling, pointed. A woman who would have otherwise disappeared from view had she not ended her life in so public a way.
The final scene is the film’s most controversial aspect. Some have been turned off by how blunt it is; I, on the other hand, could not fathom another ending that could vent so much frustration and honour its subject at the same time. Even I had to pause the film a few times so that I could prepare myself. It’s what some will want, while others will recoil. Everyone, however, is questioned for what we choose to see, and why we refuse to let some ghosts rest.