Amanda Knox

I was younger when the Amanda Knox case was in the news, and so have no memory of it.  I had been aware of the Netflix documentary, but again, I watched no trailers and did not follow the news surrounding it.  Watching this film, I went in almost entirely fresh, save for the friend who recommended it to me because of my interest in true crime: I knew nothing of the history, and was only aware that it was about a real crime.  As such, I was expecting something focusing more on the case, in the vein of Making a MurdererSerial, or The Jinx.

Rather than a true crime film like the above series, Amanda Knox (Rod Blackhurst & Brian McGinn, 2016) was what the title suggested: a film about Amanda Knox.  That is to say: the murder, Meredith Kercher, the procedural, were all about how Knox interpreted them and experienced them.

Overall, it was not a great film.  I went in knowing nothing of the case, and was left with little additional information, other than how Knox felt; so as a true crime film, it’s not great.  The film focuses heavily on the media misogyny that Knox underwent, how the focus was less on evidence (which didn’t exist) and more on her behaviour, real or imagined or exaggerated: her sex life especially as contrasted with her nerdy boyfriend’s inexperience, her supposedly seductive allure, the footage of her kissing her boyfriend at the crime scene, her Myspace handle of “Foxy Knoxy,” and in general, the media’s exploitation of a woman who is hot and crazy.  The overall thesis seemed to be that sexual women are stigmatized and punished.  This is an interesting counterpoint to Christine, also from this year, about the stigmatization and shame felt by the non-sexual woman– my point here is that women, no matter what they do or what they do, are hated.  In Christine Chubbuck’s case, if you believe certain sources, her lack of sex and romantic life helped lead her to a point of despair so deep that she took her own life.  In Knox’s case, her attractiveness and active sex life were used to condemn her.

The problem is that this concept is nothing very new, nor very originally.  This year’s Audrie and Daisy, for instance, did a much better look at the social epidemic of slut shaming, assault, and the way society treats women who are sexualized, often not by their own choice.  Audrie and Daisy did a good job, in my opinion, as it took a broad look at the subject and the repercussions of their attacks, as well as how this violent misogyny manifests in multiple yet similar ways.  It is clear that this is an epidemic.  Women, and children, everywhere are at risk and when they are attacked, the violence against them only gets stronger.  Amanda Knox, however, picks up the idea of media misogyny, but individualises it.  This is about how Amanda Knox dealt with the misogyny that she was attacked with, rather than the misogyny of the legal system or media.

This is a problem.  I’ve thought about with all of the true crime media I have consumed: we focus on the people (usually men) who are alive and potentially wrongfully accused.  People who are given a chance to tell their stories and live their lives.  The focus is the living.  The focus is not on how the story wouldn’t be possible without the murders of women, and how when the stories are about wrongful accusations, we focus on how hard these (for the most part) men have it, not on how hard the brutally murdered and often sexually tortured women had it.  Nor do we focus on how, if the protagonist of these series is innocent, what are the consequences of the legal system allowing the real killer to be free and what is this killer doing in the mean time?  Ultimately, I feel that Amanda Knox is interesting, but adds little to discussions of misogyny, nor does it have the fascination of true crime.  And despite its feminist narrative it still exploits the rape and murder of a woman, Meredith Kercher, to discuss the problems of the survivor.

How could a film on sexism not discuss the fatal gendered violence which drives the plot?  How could a film on sexism so easily, simultaneously brush aside and exploit the death of Meredith Kercher?

TIFF16: Christine

I am not sure what to make of Christine.

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After watching it tonight at TIFF16, my first thought was that I cannot take it objectively.  Due to my own struggles with depression, the film felt personal.  The screening was followed by a Q&A with director, writer, producers, and star Rebecca Hall.  Given my feelings of being too close to the subject matter, I was eager to hear more from the filmmakers; however, both writer and director referenced their own mental health struggles as jumping off points for understanding  Christine Chubbuck, the journalist who killed herself on air who the film focuses one.  That is to say, they were also not quite objective, or at least did not provide me with an objective view I could latch on to. 

I looked up reviews of the film, which are for the most part positive.  Three things stand out: the successes of the 1970s mise-en-scène, the sound design, and Hall’s performance as Chubbuck.   I would agree on all three counts.  I also liked the look at workplace misogyny in Chubbuck’s situation, as well as her complex characterisation as a woman who was passionate about her job and extremely ambitious despite her setbacks.  Hall portrays her drive as well as her frustrations and anxieties extremely well.  But here again I lose objectivity.  I am a person who values independence and solitude, so the depiction I saw of Christine did not read to me as ‘lonely,’ despite it, I think, meaning to be.  And because I cannot think of a more flattering way to put it, I am someone who has been described as cold.  The reviews I read reference Christine’s cold, ‘frosty’ personality, yet this is not something I noticed at all in the film.  In fact, having read about Chubbuck beforehand, I knew that she had been described as difficult to get along with, standoffish, and cold.  Therefore I went into the film expecting this characterisation; instead I found her to be fairly open and likeable though often stressed and easily withdrawn, perhaps even a bit nervous.  So again: is it that I am cold that I could not see Christine’s coldness and the fault in this?

In this way, I saw Christine as not so much a depressed, struggling person, despite her obvious struggles from professional to romantic to medical to familial.  If anything, she seemed well adjusted.  So I don’t know how to take the film.  Is there supposed to be a downward trajectory that I’m missing because I relate too much, or is the banality of her life itself supposed to be a significant element to the narrative of a shocking suicide?  At this point, it is impossible to tell.  Perhaps after more research I’ll find the answer, or the filmmakers will discuss their intent more deeply in the future.  All I can say right now is that this ambiguity does not really work for me.  It makes me think ‘why?’

Chubbuck’s brother has stated that the film is nothing but the exploitation of a tragedy.  In part, the more I think of it, the more I agree.  The film is extremely upsetting, but does it say anything about the problems of mental illness and its treatment, or about how gender can impact one’s mental health?  Again, my problem is that I’m too close to the issue: I’m a woman with depression.  And this experience is rarely discussed sensitively.  Instead, it is exploited in the tropes or fragile, tragic muses and Ophelia-types, rarely taken seriously.  Suicide is something we still do not properly discuss or deal with, and I think my issue is that while film does not have to say something, when film takes an issue that is already so stigmatized, so exploited, so poorly dealt with in real life, so deadly, can it be used simply to make ‘art’?  That is to say: suicide is a serious problem.  Can it be used to create a role to demonstrate great acting or directing?  Especially when it is a real-life case?

So again, I am too close to the subject matter of Christine to objectively comment on it or appreciate it.  I think it is very well made, and Rebecca Hall’s performance is exceptional.  I think it was also somewhat over-long, and many of the inconsequential news items that Christine was forced to film could have been cut, as the point that she was being underused and her ambitions were not being met was made early on.  I felt that the insertion of historical context was heavy handed, but the elements of mise-en-scène which created the 1970s world were very well done.  The sound design and layering of voices and music was also very effective.  This is what I think of Christine as  film.  But film doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  So I also question why it was made.  Why would someone who cannot relate to Christine’s struggles want to watch them, and would it be enjoyable?  Is the film exploiting a woman who has become known for only her sensational death  by focusing on this death and it’s lead-up, especially when family feels hurt and disrespected?  Does it fall into the category of our enjoyment of beautiful yet tragic women who we can’t save but whose self-destruction we enjoy?  I don’t know.

I think Christine is a well made film; I just don’t know if it should have been made.