A number of years back, in college, I composed a paper on the history of safety regulations in the film industry. A key focus of mine was the horrific accident that occurred on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie in the summer of 1982 - that is, the helicopter crash that ended the lives of veteran actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
While researching that event, I came across the now-defunct shock site Ogrish, which specialized in uploading graphic, gory multimedia of accidents, executions and so on, that would never be allowed to grace a mainstream video-sharing website like YouTube. Besides video of the accident itself, there were countless threads on their message boards discussing the Twilight Zone incident. There was even more chatter, however, about another grisly death once captured on film.
That marked the first time I'd ever heard the name Christine Chubbuck, despite at that point having already put in a few years toward my Bachelor's degree in Journalism. To the Ogrish crowd, Chubbuck was something of a legend, her suicide having been broadcast live on-air over the Sarasota, Florida airwaves in the summer of 1974. That video of this tragedy has never surfaced since its live airing made Chubbuck's death all the more intriguing to these online chatters.
At the time, I did a bit more digging - beyond the Ogrish crowd, of course - on her life and career but otherwise, in the years since, had not given a thought to Chubbuck.
Now, however, comes Christine, a motion picture focused on the final days of Chubbuck's life.
With the mesmerizing Rebecca Hall (who was so terrific in last year's The Gift too) in the title role, the film portrays Chubbuck as an immensely talented and committed journalist. Craving to report on serious issues of substance, even if it's dry material like zoning laws, she is constantly at odds with her boss (Tracy Letts), who wants juicier, more sensational stories to boost the flailing network's ratings. She's a standoffish presence at work but at least has the respect of her other colleagues (Michael C. Hall and Maria Dizzia among them).
Chubbuck, however, does not have much of a life outside the office. She has struggled with depression for years, having attempted suicide several times in the past. After graduating from Boston University's journalism school, she moved back down to Sarasota to reside with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron) and their relationship is often contentious, especially when her mom brings home a new boyfriend. Chubbuck dreams of moving up in the reporting ranks and starting a family with a wonderful man but several events - over what will prove the final days of her life - make those desires look all the more implausible.
Christine does not break a ton of new ground on the much-explored scene of 1970s journalism and we've seen the "serious vs. sensational journalism" debate tackled more compellingly before. The picture also goes on 10 minutes too long, ending on a note that just isn't very convincing. The look and feel of the time is, however, captured quite nicely, and the film sports a marvelous soundtrack. Beyond the warm and affecting Smith-Cameron, none of the supporting cast leaves much of an impression.
The picture is, however, well-worth a look for one reason, that of course being its leading lady. Hall gives a truly pitch-perfect, lived-in performance as Chubbuck. While Letts grandstands in a hammy turn as the network boss, Hall is brilliantly subtle here and not only heartbreaking but, given Chubbuck's self-deprecating nature, often very funny too. She particularly amazes during a roller coaster-of-emotions sequence in which Chubbuck is invited out to dinner by the network's lead anchor.
While pundits these days seem focused almost exclusively on the likes of Emma Stone and Natalie Portman, we should not this awards season overlook the sublime work here from one of Hollywood's most underappreciated actresses.