Another two challenging films today. Christine by Antonio Campos attempted to put a backstory to the true life drama of Christine Chubbuck who notoriously shot herself live on a local television news channel.
The macabre and lurid myths that have arisen as a result of this shocking act needed to be toned down and examined, whether this film quite succeeds is debatable – though this film is in the DARE section, not the DEBATE section where it more probably belongs.
I would have liked to see the other film about Christine Chubbuck that is also in the Film Festival this year, Kate plays Christine by Robert Greene, but it did not fit in with my schedule which is already quite overloaded.
Rebecca Hall puts in a storming performance as the troubled tele-journalist, whose private life seems to be a mixture of the terrifying and the fantasist. Suffering already, though this was only referred to, in a career move brought on by a nervous disorder, Christine is now working in Saratoga television, attempting to produce issue-based news bulletins; her boss however, with a view to the bottom-line, wants more ‘blood and guts’ stories; when she attempts this though, once again she misfires because her item concentrates on the human angle of a fire and rescue story, not the more vivid filming of the fire itself.
The health issues she is suffering from are further exacerbated by the news that she has an ovarian cyst, which accounts for the acute abdominal pain she has been putting down to stress for several months. Sadly, since Christine internalises many of her problems, her flaky mother, with whom she lives, does not have a sympathetic attitude at all, although clearly aware that her daughter is emotionally unstable in some way. Christine makes to-do lists, but this is a displacement strategy and she doesn’t actually do them, apart from thinking of story lines for her two hand puppets.
The happiest moments in the film show Christine in a home for ability challenged children playing out ideas and conversations between these two puppets. Tangerine is a wise advisor to the other puppet, and between them they often externalise some of the problems that Christine knows herself to have: “how to be bold and brave; how to show other people qualities that you know that you have, but that they seem unable to appreciate”.
It was telling, if accurate, that she used the second weaker puppet, her ‘needy’ voiced puppet in which to hide the pistol that she eventually used to shoot herself.
While, in my opinion, this was a brave undertaking, I suspect that it failed significantly on engaging the emotions of the audience. One fully understood the limitations, two hours to portray a complicated and troubled woman whose career suicide was exactly that. There was not enough time to establish a connection between her desperation to do serious work, her fantasy emotional life which was hinted at, left undeveloped and then dealt with in one short, obscure and brief scene and the depths to which she had sunk in order to end her life so publicly and dramatically. There was too much to say and not enough time to say it.
The second film of the day was a photo-essay mostly about Mount Fuji in Japan. This was the EXPERIMENTA SPECIAL PRESENTATION. This mysterious (and holy) volcanic mountain in Japan has long attracted mythical stories and illustrations, many early manuscripts and early Japanese woodcuts, especially those by Katsushika Hokusai have images of Mount Fuji in them. [Though I was a bit amazed to hear Fiona Tan say in the introduction that she had never noticed Mount Fuji in his most famous woodcut The Great Wave, since this belongs in a series called Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji.] Those same woodcuts which so entranced and influenced Vincent Van Gogh that he and his brother Theo ended up with about 400. [They also entranced my grandfather, who was the Cultural Attaché to Burma and the Far East and we have ended up with rather fewer than the Van Gogh’s but nevertheless some very, very fine ones.]
The EXPERIMENTA section can be tricky, and it would not be the first time that the offering was less interesting than watching paint dry. But this was quite, quite different: an elegiac meditation on the mountain, its image and its myths. The genesis was an invitation to visit a vast image library in Japan, with many previously unpublished pictures including some of military personnel grouped for photographs with the mountain in the background.
This was a surprise to Fiona Tan because after the capitulation of the Japanese in the Second World War, all images referring to conflict which included the mountain were banned.
The essay contained many dazzling images of Mount Fuji, in all seasons, from all angles, at all times of day, both in black and white and in colour; the collection was further augmented by ordinary Japanese people being invited to send their own images via a specially opened website – Fiona Tan ended up with over 4000 photos.
Except for very occasional moments, the essay was made up entirely of stills which through brilliant cutting bled and faded one into another, while the voiceover on English by Fiona Tan and in Japanese by Hiroki Hasegawa told stories about the mountain, and recorded the thoughts of a Western artist and a male writer who had personal relationship with Mount Fuji. The soundscape and the music added another level of beauty and depth.
It was also a Westerner’s threnody to a lost Japanese friend, someone who had been much valued and loved and who had sent some of the images by way of a message about himself and the mountain. This was the emotional axis of the film, haunting, arresting, mysterious like Mount Fuji – changeable, distant and photogenic.
Although this does not yet have a fixed agreement for UK distribution, it is to be hoped that this will be forthcoming soon. You would have to see the film to fully appreciate the wonder and delight that can be achieved in this brave and experimental manner.