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The Desire to Be Seen: How Robert Greene Used Performance to Investigate Tragedy in Kate Plays Christine

The Desire to Be Seen: How Robert Greene Used Performance to Investigate Tragedy in Kate Plays Christine


MM: In documenting Kate’s creative process and search for a tangible connection to Christine, were you were also documenting your own creative process behind the camera?

RG: The documenting of process aspect is heightened. Kate’s process is very internal. We had to figure out strategies to externalize what was going on internally. We could have put in a lot more stufffor example, me planning or fretting about somethingbut that wasn’t interesting to me. The process is only interesting inasmuch as it puts you in the headspace of questioning why Kate is doing certain things, like, “Why is she running up to the water? Is that directed or is not directed? Is she trying to get closer to Christine or a mere reenactment itself?” The process is there [to] make you understand the basic parameters of what you are watching; hopefully it goes deeper than just being a movie about filmmaking. That is of course a part of the movie, but if it was just a movie about filmmaking I don’t think it would work.

MM: What conversations did you have with your cinematographer Sean Price Williams about the stylistic distinction between Kate’s process and the reenactments?

RG: We didn’t want it to have the Traffic effect where it was like, “When you are in Mexico, it’s sepia tone.” We didn’t want that. Obviously the look is very different, so we thought, “How do we figure out a way to make that seamless?” There was a lot of discussion about how we wanted those reenactments to look and we were thinking Fassbinder, garish period pieces of movies that we love like, weird Rossellini things shot on video, and weird Antonioni things. Sean at one point said that he wanted the look to be like, “Imagine going into a thrift store in Poland or Hungary, and you see this huge VHS box for a TV show and you [say], ‘That looks like the coolest, craziest thing I’ve ever seen’.” That was what we wanted it to look like—garish, but also somehow the garishness had a quality that was its own expression. We worked hard to get that. 

Kate Lyn Sheil in Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine. Courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

MM: During Sundance, did you have a chance to see Antonio Campos’ fictional film Christine? What were your thoughts on it and how does it relate to your film and your vision of Christine Chubbuck’s story?

Robert Greene: I did see it there. I am the least likely person to be sympathetic to another Christine Chubbuck film because of how fraught the whole thing is for me personally, but I think his movie is very interesting and Rebecca Hall is amazing. It isn’t the film that I made, obviously. I suspect that those guys feel the same way. But you can’t deny how good Rebecca Hall is, how interesting the tone is, and how interesting what they are trying to pull off is. I think there is a tendency to look at our film and say that is somehow an attempt to negate someone else’s movie, and that is not the case at all. We knew about their film and they knew about our film. I don’t think anyone expected us both to go to Sundance, least of all us. The self-lacerating aspect of our film is really internal, and they have every right as artists to tackle whatever they see fit and I think they did in a genuine way.

MM: Given the fact that we are still talking about Christine now, over 40 years after she committed suicide, would you say that the point she was trying to make regarding what people want to see on screen has been proven right?

Robert Greene: I think it would be dangerous to say that. She wanted to be seen and she wanted her message to be heard, but she was also a sick person. I didn’t go into this thinking, “I’ll finally give her a chance to be heard.” I wouldn’t feel good about thinking in those terms. I think she had something to say and it was valuable, real and important for her to say it. I think that message still resonates today. I think we live in a world where it’s not just “blood-and-guts” television but it’s “blood-and-guts” live streams, Instagrams, etc. and we have to find strategies of contextualizing that for our own health and sanity.

Politically, the use of images today is loaded with questions. There is great instability in images today and I think she was talking about that on some level. She was also deeply depressed and I wouldn’t dare to diagnose what she was coping with, but she was struggling to live and decided to die. It’s not my place to give her a platform, but I do think its worth contemplating her story and who she was, what her story can tell us about ourselves and how it can help us cope with the vast emptiness that comes with somebody committing suicide, especially the way she did it. I feel, having made the film, closer to this person knowing that I’ll never actually feel close to this person. She wasn’t someone I knew and she died so long ago. I have an uneasiness with thinking of giving any voice to her. The film is deeply uneasy with itself and I’m deeply uneasy with talking about the real Christine. MM

Kate Plays Christine opened in theaters August 24, courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

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