Kate Plays Christine
Friday August 26 through Thursday September 1 at IFC Center: $15
This year at Sundance, there were two films focused on Christine Chubbuck, the Florida news reporter who killed herself live on the air in the summer of 1974 during the broadcast of her talk show– although the filmmakers in each case took a wildly different approach to exploring not only the story of Chubbuck’s death but our own unrelenting fascination with her suicide and how knowing that it was caught on film makes the whole situation strangely titillating.
In the first film, Christine, the filmmaker Antonio Campos explained that he was “very true to the story,” albeit with some “creative license.” However, the film poses questions about the media in general, with a special focus on how reporters have the ability to shape reality, to some extent. This certainly pushes back against the official story Chubbuck’s station director told news reporters following her suicide: “The crux of the situation was that she was a 29-year-old girl who wanted to be married and who wasn’t.” Shudder.
I mean, if her boss was willing to spew such misogynist venom immediately after Chubbuck’s death, just imagine the kind of garbage she was dealing with on a daily basis as a woman in a leading role at a television news station. Campos seems to pick up on these poisonous vibes, and he takes a more nuanced view of the situation and actually considers that a conflict with Chubbuck’s supervisor at work might be able to tell us something about her suicide. Unlike most people, whose powers of reasoning seem to be occluded (somewhat understandably) by the simple, horrifying fact that Chubbuck committed suicide in front of a public audience, Campos actually listens carefully to Chubbuck’s final words: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first: attempted suicide.”
But Kate Plays Christine– a docu-drama following actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to portray Chubbuck in what the Times dubbed, an “unsettling cinematic hybrid”– is a wholly more complex approach to filmmaking. Let’s just call it a “freaky deaky” mindfuck, the kind that delves into the larger questions about humanity/life/death and all that– and while the subject matter is much more individual, Western, privileged etc., the mood seems to resemble that of The Act of Killing.
The actor-as-subject theme is one that Green has explored in depth before with his 2014 film, Actress, which demonstrates the blurring of boundaries that some actors experience as they prepare for a role. They essentially lose their own personalities as they become completely preoccupied with seeing, feeling, and thinking like a character who is often completely different from themselves.
In this film, director Robert Green has simultaneously cast Sheil as Chubbuck and made her the central subject of what ends up being a super-meta documentary. We’re once again reminded of the emotional challenges actors face as Sheil takes on the dark task of researching Chubbuck’s very short but depressed life, and assuming a state-of-mind that’s often deeply disturbing. But there are many more layers to Kate Plays Christine, and they all start to reveal themselves as the film hurdles toward Chubbuck’s experience of actually seeing the footage and reenacting the suicide itself. In the brilliant words of Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park: “Hold on to your butts.”
Women in Revolt
Friday August 19, 5 pm at Spectacle: $5
“I can’t stand the sight of men!” Candy Darling declares in this 1971 Paul Morrissey/Andy Warhol classic starring Jackie Curtis. Although it’s a who’s-who of some of the best known trans artists and personalities of the ’70s downtown underground, it’s also a satire of the SCUM manifesto-aligned women’s liberation movement under Valerie Solanas, who had tried to kill Warhol a few years prior.
Paul Morrissey, a devout right-winging Catholic (he somehow hung out with Andy Warhol despite their massive differences) also directed the film, but there was a great deal of tension surrounding the collaboration and Curtis reportedly refused to finish shooting unless Warhol manned the camera.
Despite all the madness surrounding it and the fact that satirizing Solanas was read as Warhol dissing the entire feminist movement, the film actually reads as radically pro-trans cinema, where the trans women who star in Revolt aren’t treated as “drag queens” as they were so often referred to, but as the females they identified as. And furthermore, the film’s a very timely exploration of the difference between feminism and feminist rhetoric, employed by the media and as we’re seeing now, interested parties ranging from corporations and pop stars in an attempt to ride a trendy pro-woman wave of so-called “empowerment” as opposed to legitimately working for women’s equality.
So, yeah– run, don’t walk to Spectacle today after work (leave early if you have to), because this is your last chance to see Women in Revolt— well, at least until that great wheel of visual fortune that is Spectacle’s Best of the Best series lands on this one again.
Desperately Seeking Susan
Saturday August 27 (6:30 pm and 9 pm) and Monday August 29 (4:45 pm) at the Metrograph: $15
Say what you will about Madonna, but man was she cool in the ’80s. Long before the Kabbalah water and making out with Britney Spears or whatever, Madge was dating Basquiat and partying at the Mudd Club. By 1985, the year Desperately Seeking Susan was released, she was as a newly-minted but already world famous pop star, having dropped Like a Virgin to major success. The film was her first starring role in a major cinematic production, and while her performance might seem rather stilted today, critics were totally smitten with her when it was released, and even now you can feel the electricity running through this pre-vampire Madonna.
Amazingly, the film was shot in downtown New York City just prior to the release of Like a Virgin, and according to the Metrograph, bystanders on the Lower East Side repeatedly confused Madonna for Cyndi Lauper. About a year later, people were probably asking, “Cyndi who?”
If this kind of thing really gets you goin’, be sure to catch the Madonna retrospective, Body of Work, organized by the Metrograph. It runs August 27 through September 1.
Dying to Know: Ram Dass and Timothy Leary
Friday August 26 through Wednesday August 31 at Sunshine Cinema: $14.50
The biggest draw of this film about two extensively explored figures of American history, Timothy Leary and Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert), is the archival footage– loads and loads of it, and rare stuff too. These include a deeply satisfying crackly, black-and-white clip of Timothy Leary testifying before the Senate, after he’s asked to describe the effects of LSD. He chuckles softly, “No, sir.”
The film focuses on the Harvard professor and the spiritual teacher who embarked on two very different paths stemming from their early ’50s experiments with LSD. Leary ended up in prison for a bit and became the politically potent symbol of the rebellious ’60s, while Dass went from being a staunch atheist to a hippie-dippy spiritualist. “I didn’t have one whiff of God until I took psychedelics,” he’s said. Dass traveled to India, where he assumed his new name and received a Hindu spiritual education. He ended up writing the book, Be Here Now which generations of college-age boys have used to woo young lasses into psychedelic-soaked orgies. On the real though– together, Leary and Dass helped popularize a drug and familiarize the West with the psychedelic experience which arguably changed the course of history. Trippy, no?