“If it bleeds it leads,” is an accepted mantra around newsrooms these days but back in 1974 it was a new, controversial idea. In the based-on-true-events film Christine Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbuck, an investigative reporter at a local ABC affiliate in Sarasota, Florida. She was particularly disdainful of the idea until she became the poster child for news sensationalism by announcing to her viewers, “In keeping with WZRB’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see complete coverage of an attempted suicide,” before putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger.
“There are a lot of films that portray misfits and odd the people as cool,” says Hall during a stop at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I don’t want to say it fetishizes it but sometimes it makes it seem aspirational or trendy. The access [to Christine] for me personally was feeling like you are different and not excepted. That can be excruciating. Especially if you are a woman, especially at that time when you were operating it in un-meritocratic system. She had integrity. She wanted to serve your community. That was her driving force but she was not rewarded for that. [People around her] thought, ‘Well, you’re a lady in a bit weird.’ They didn’t know how to deal with that.”
Chubbuck’s progression to larger markets was stymied by illness and depression—“My life is a cesspool,” she says in the film.—and culminated with the news reporter becoming the news.
“To me Christine is someone who went through her life every day thinking, ‘OK what does it look like to be normal?’ What she perceives to be normal. She looks to everyone for affirmation. Am I doing OK? Did I get away with it today? Am I like you? Am I accepted? Sometimes she’s really good at it and sometime she’s really bad at it but regardless her community accepts her. The tragedy of the film is that she doesn’t see that. It is a compassionate film. It is a cautiously optimistic film about people.”
REBECCA HALL SIDEBAR:
“I don’t think I have given [a role] like it before and I probably won’t again because it is one of those jobs that if you are incredibly lucky you get maybe three of them in a career. And that’s only if you are incredibly successful and lucky and often only if you were a man.”