Christine – LFF Review

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The life and death of Christine Chubbuck has become a modern myth; the story of the newsreader who shot herself live on air at the age of just 29. Sadly this particular myth is not fiction and has now been brought to the big screen by director Antonio Campos with Rebecca Hall in a career best performance as the titular Christine.

Refreshingly Christine does not linger on the act itself but explores the character of Christine and what might have led her to take such a drastic action on live television. Christine is living with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), lusting after her coworker and lead anchor (Michael C. Hall), and struggling to get taken seriously by her boss (Tracy Letts). None of Christine’s problems are insurmountable but the film subtly shows how numerous issues can culminate in a drastic act. Without obliquely explaining why she took her life the film simply shows us the circumstances of her existence and leaves us to make our own conclusions.

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Despite the morbid subject matter Christine is not a bleak film. While it might have been easier to make a dour drama about a woman on the brink of depression, Campos has decided instead to celebrate the life of Christine Chubbuck. We get to see what drives her and are shown the passion she had for the local news. Christine took herself and her job seriously and thankfully the film mirrors this and does not turn her legacy into a freakshow. The delicate way the film balances humour and human insight is admirable. By the end of the film Chubbuck is no longer an enigma but a relatable person who just went one fatal step too far. Christine may be about a tragedy but the film itself is not tragic.

Responsible for portraying this complex character is Rebecca Hall; an actor not placed in the foreground often enough. Hall gives Chubbuck a heart and provides the soul behind the eyes of a reserved and seemingly uptight persona. The performance she delivers here should be seen as as a real achievement that will hopefully make her a firmer fixture in the cinematic landscape. Hall has come a long way since her part in Starter for 10 a decade ago.

Roughly 20 minutes too long Christine is otherwise flawless. What we have here is not just a tribute to a woman who died far too young but a showcase for an underrated British talent.

As enjoyable a film about suicide as there is likely to be.

WIGS – Strong Female Characters Ahoy!

Serena WIGS

While searching for something completely unrelated on YouTube last week I stumbled, as I often seem to do, over something a little different. WIGS is an online channel that has been producing high quality scripted drama and releasing it on the internet for free since 2012. I realise that this makes me somewhat late to the game but my research technique mostly involves me clicking through the internet one page at a time so forgive my lateness.

If you are already aware of WIGS then please move along but if not bear with me a second.

What made WIGS stick out to me was firstly the fact that the short films and web series starred actual actors whose names and faces I recognised. Much as I realise this shouldn’t matter to me I have to acknowledge that it does, particularly in the Wild West of YouTube filled with plenty of videos so awful you’d be better off watching the adverts that precede them. I am to blame for some of these videos so I know what I’m talking about.

Faces you might recognise include Julia Stiles, Jennifer Garner, Dakota Fanning, Michael C. Hall, America Ferrera, Stephen Moyer, Jason Isaacs, Jena Malone, Alfred Molina, Allison Janney, Alison Pill, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and plenty others.

The second thing that intrigued me about WIGS may have become evident while reading that artfully copy and pasted list of names; there are women all over the place. It has not been a great time for women on the internet recently/ever and it was refreshing to be offered the opportunity to see female actors take on complex leading roles rather than being offered the opportunity to see female actors take off their shirts without their permission. The phrase “strong female characters” is bandied about a lot and often refers to examples of women in dystopian futures being manipulated and punching authority figures in the throat. A strong female character doesn’t need to possess physical strength just character, real motivations, and to be a protagonists not just a prop or pawn. WIGS provides these in abundance.

I have not been asked to push this particular channel so hard but liked what I saw and wanted to share it with you. To watch their videos I advise visiting their YouTube channel and I have embedded some highlights below:

Serena
Jennifer Garner & Alfred Molina star in a short about a woman taking confession.

Celia
Allison Janney & Dakota Fanning star in a short about a young woman visiting a doctor who also happens to be a friend of her mother.

Denise
Alison Pill & Chris Messina star in a short about an actress being picked up by a man she may have met before.

Dakota
Jena Malone stars in a series about a young mother relying on poker wins to survive.

Kill Your Darlings – LFF Film Review

Kill Your Darlings

I think I had the wrong idea about Kill Your Darlings when I decided to trundle along and see it. What I knew was that Daniel Radcliffe would be starring as a young Allen Ginsberg who starts his university career and meets the likes of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. With this brief synopsis cluttering up my brain I was expecting to see the formation of the Beat generation unfold onscreen and what I got was something a little less defined.

At university Ginsberg becomes enamoured with fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) who goes on to introduce him to Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Burroughs (Ben Foster) and it is Carr who suggests starting a literary revolution. For part of the film the idea of the revolution seems to be the focus but it always sits on the periphery in contrast to Ginsberg’s determined pursuit of Carr despite dismissive treatment in favour of Carr’s much older lover/stalker David (Michael C. Hall). The film seems to want to imply that everyone will go on to change the face of American literature but doesn’t want to get bogged down in showing that happen when there’s drug taking, sex, and murder to be amusing ourselves with. Yes, one of the characters another and the whole film suddenly doesn’t find the drug taking and casual harassment nearly as fun as it did before.

For me the films lacks focus and a proper plot. The performances are all fine and Radcliffe does good work as Ginsberg, despite him being writing a little too pathetic to be able to carry the film, but the writing forces every performance to fall short of believability. The major trouble lies in the fact that on the one hand we are supposed to be revelling in a period piece where poetry can be seen as a form of rebellion and drug taking and child abuse as decadent indulgences, and on the other hand we have the grim dramatics of the murder and Ginsberg’s mother’s psychological issues which pop up from time to time. Nothing like murder and potential paedophilia to ruin a party.

This was no doubt quite a dramatic period in the lives of the men who would define the Beat generation but perhaps the story could have been moulded a little more to form a clearer narrative. At the end of the screening I wasn’t too sure what to think. I had enjoyed the performances and various scenes in the film but didn’t know what it wanted me to take away from it. At no point in the film did I get a sense of the legacy that these men left on the world of writing and I didn’t get any incentive to devour their collective works.

What I saw was a group of self-indulgent individuals who were finally forced to deal with the real world when one is arrested for the murder of another. I’m certain this doesn’t do justice to the combined efforts of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs and is unlikely to have been the intention of the filmmakers.

Not awful, and a worthy debut from Austin Bunn and John Krokidas, but Kill Your Darlings meanders a little too much to impress.

Kill Your Darlings is in UK cinemas on 6th December 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013