On July 14th, 1974, 29-year old Christine Chubbuck, a TV reporter based in Sarasota, Florida, was helming a seemingly routine newscast when there was a technical hitch. Once the live feed returned to the studio, Chubbuck read the following statement: “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 pulled a gun out from under her desk and shot herself in the head, dying in hospital several hours later. Footage of her suicide attempt was subsequently passed on to the police. In Killing for Culture (1995: revised and updated 2016), David Kerekes and David Slater discuss Chubbuck’s suicide alongside other notorious instances of “Death in the Media.” They note: “The tape has apparently yet to surface in any form. Despite some claims that footage of Chubbuck’s suicide had once circulated on the internet, there is no evidence to suggest it is there now. Frankly, it is unlikely that such material – any material – would ever surface and then simply disappear from the virtual reservoir” (2016: 355).
Footage of Chubbuck’s death may not yet have surfaced in the “virtual reservoir,” but that fact that it inspired two films in 2016 suggests that her story is one that still resonates. The meta staged “documentary” Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene) is told from the perspective of an actress preparing to play Chubbuck. My focus here is on the more formally conventional take on Chubbuck’s story, Christine (Antonio Campos, 2016), which dramatizes the months leading up to her death.
There’s an interesting point of connection between John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), a film about a punk band, The Ain’t Rights who, while playing a neo-Nazi club somewhere near Portland, Oregon, witness a murder and find themselves in serious trouble.
Saulnier has gone on record as loving Carpenter’s work, especially The Thing, which inspired him as a child and which he counts as his favorite Carpenter film.[i]
Not surprisingly, then, when he’s interviewed about influences on Green Room, Saulnier mentions The Thing, but he typically only mentions the earlier film’s influence on his creation of tension within small spaces: “it really is just people talking in a room, he says.”[ii]
There’s another connection, though, that seems minor but that has some suggestive implications.
With the release of Alien Covenant, it’s time to put to bed everyone’s favourite argument about everyone’s least favourite prequel. I’m sure you’ve heard a variant of this complaint before: “The problem with Prometheus is it’s set before Alien but the technology looks better”; or, maybe “I would have liked Prometheus if it had stuck with the retro 80s idea of the future from the Alien films.” I think Prometheus is a bad film, but this argument misses its real faults. It’s the modern obsession for logically nit-picking at movies masquerading as an aesthetic concern. It sides with nostalgic familiarity over the innovative and creative. Ultimately, it’s not a way of looking at film that will help us spot when something really new and original comes along.
While there are a few satisfying explanations for why the technology in Prometheus would be slicker than the clunky monitors of Alien (a common one seems to be that the Prometheus mission was far better funded), the need for an explanation misses the point. It’s natural for films to adapt their vision of the future with the changing times, just as our idea of the past has updated with historical study. To not change makes it difficult for a film to stand on its own two feet with new audiences; in the case of a sequel or prequel, it makes it dependent on the original audiences. Take Mad Max: Fury Road for instance, a film that radically overhauled the iconic look of the originals to use new special effects. Why was Fury Road praised for its visuals while Prometheus was criticised for them? There’s a few possible answers. For one thing, Fury Road deliberately blurred the line between sequel and remake, partly by way of its audacious visuals. The world of Fury Road is also so high octane that it makes it almost plausible that society would accelerate into a sun-bleached desert in Max’s lifetime. But let’s face it, the real reason is that more imagination and effort went into the visuals of Fury Road and it just looks cooler.
Not many events foster the creative aspirations of the teenaged filmmaker, which makes the Upper Dublin-based Greenfield Youth Film Festival stand out. On April 27, 2017, this film festival displayed and celebrated short films from all over the state of Pennsylvania. Some of the most clever (and most awarded) films were horror films. After the event, I got the chance to talk with the filmmakers awarded for their work in the horror genre at a private screening on May 7th, or through email correspondence. Below are three films that stood out in the film festival. These expert and passionate films reflect the professionalism and talent of their respective makers.
2017 R USA Trey Edward Shults 91 mins.
I’ve been anticipating Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes at Night since I first saw the preview, and it does not disappoint. Indeed, the film exceeded all my expectations. Shults’s second feature film (his first, Krisha, won the Grand Jury Award at South by Southwest in 2015) is a brilliant exercise in building tension: every encounter, every conversation, every shot induces anxiety and dread. The performances of all the actors are superb (especially Joel Edgerton as Paul and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as his son Travis). Each character pulls you in, making you feel their distinctiveness, making you feel for and with each of them. It Comes at Night, moreover, is unambiguously a film of our historical moment—and it should, and will, prompt conversations about what it’s saying about immigration and borders (open or closed) in 2017.