TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses suicide and may be upsetting to some readers.
On July 15, 1974, a 29-year-old news anchor working for an ABC local news affiliate in Sarasota, Florida interrupted her live morning talk show to read the following:
“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living colour, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide.”
She then held a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.
Christine Chubbuck died later that night. She was, in fact, the first person to take her own life on live television.
Two years later the film Network hit theatres. In the Sidney Lumet directed, Paddy Chayefsky written satire of the television news industry, the character Howard Beale vows to kill himself on air after learning he's being fired because of low ratings.
“I’m going to blow my brains out, right on this program, a week from today,” says Beale (played by Peter Finch). “So tune in next Tuesday. That should give the public relations people a week to promote the show. You ought to get a hell of a rating out of that.”
Though according to The New York Times, Chayefsky's script was not in fact influenced by Chubbuck's death, Howard Beale's famous rant makes its way into a new film about her death.
In Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (which opened August 24th in select cities), actress Kate Lyn Sheil, plays an actress named Kate who is preparing to star in a biopic about Chubbuck's life. She recites Howard Beale's rant in the mirror to psych herself up so she can perform her character's suicide scene.
That's kind of point.
Kate Plays Christine doesn't really have a genre. Part fiction, part non-fiction. Part drama, part documentary. Part characters, part real life people. The film's meta-story is just as interested in Kate the actress as it is in Chubbuck.
Of course, a big part of the public's morbid fascination with Chubbuck's story is fuelled by speculation surrounding the existence of footage of her live-to-air death. Several people have searched, but to no avail. Some claimed it had been lost, others suggested it had been destroyed.
But following the premiere of Kate Plays Christine, Mollie Nelson, the wife of the station owner in Sarasota, Florida Robert Nelson, told Vulture that her husband had in fact kept the master tape.
She said she started to get questions regarding the tape after the film's Sundance premiere so she gave the tape to a "very large law firm" for safekeeping adding that she has no plans to ever make it available to the public.
The film won a special jury award for writing at the Sundance Film Festival, but if it doesn't sound like your type of movie, there's actually another more straightforward Chubbuck biopic opening in October. Antonio Campos's Christine stars Rebecca Hall as the newscaster.
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