Jean Seberg

"Movie Magazine International" Tribute

(Air Date: Week Of 3/13/96)

By Monica Sullivan

Jean Seberg was a pretty blonde who was voted "Most Likely To Succeed" when she graduated from High School in 1956. The following year, she was the first teenager to play "Saint Joan" onscreen. She received enormous publicity prior to the film's release, but both Seberg and director Otto Preminger were raked over the coals by critics and audiences alike. (The Harvard Lampoon cited "Saint Joan" as the worst film of the century 1857-1957 & complained that Seberg was "soporific as a saint & insipid as a sinner".) After a start like that, there was nowhere to go but up or back to Iowa.

Seberg chose to make another film with Preminger, "Bonjour Tristesse". If that movie had been her first, the career of Jean Seberg might have been quite different. As it was, her good work in her second movie still supplied her with a shot at international stardom in the heady days of the French New Wave. Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless", written by Francois Truffaut & co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, gave Seberg her most fondly remembered role. As an American teen selling the N.Y. Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris, she was vivid and affecting and her ultra short haircut & late off-the-rack wardrobe launched a new look for young girls of the late fifties to emulate. Jean Seberg appeared to be here to stay, but like her sophisticated facade, the public illusion was more persuasive than her private reality. Despite fine performances in dozens of underrated domestic & French movies, Seberg's life and career may well have been doomed from the moment she left her Midwestern home in Marshalltown.

In "From The Journals Of Jean Seberg", Mark Rappaport's fictitious approach to her life, a former babysitting charge who grew up around the corner from Seberg tells the story of a sensitive small town girl driven to professional and personal despair. Mary Beth Hurt, now 47, plays the Jean Seberg who might have been had she overcome the tragedy of her life with Rappaport's blessed sense of irony. The film traces the work of such contemporaries as Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave who achieved greater fame and recognition than Seberg and were better protected emotionally during their days of political activism.

The fragile Seberg tried to kill herself annually on the anniversary of her baby daughter's death, after being hounded by the FBI who leaked false rumours that the premature infant had been fathered by a Black Panther. In "From The Journals of Jean Seberg", now playing at art houses across the country, Rappaport tells an immensely sad story with both effective detail and compassionate honesty.

Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan

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