From the Journals of Jean Seberg
1996, NR, 98 min. Directed by Mark Rappaport. Starring Mary Beth Hurt.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., June 21, 1996
French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard supposedly described film history as a history of boys photographing girls. For American actress Jean Seberg -- herself one of the girls photographed by boys like Godard in his film Breathless -- this history proved fatal, resulting in a career that had more stops than starts and a sense of self ground to nothingness by the time of her death, an apparent suicide, in 1979 at the age of 40. Fashioning a fictional autobiography from Seberg's career highs and lows, director Mark Rappaport (Exterior Night, Rock Hudson's Home Movies) engages actress Mary Beth Hurt (Light Sleeper, Interiors) to play an older, cynical Seberg who examines her career and personal life within the political and social context of the 1960s and 1970s. As Seberg, Hurt analyzes her first film performance in Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957) with a dry wit, remarking, “I was no Brando.” She adopts a similar tone in appraisal of her other film roles, many of which were directed by Seberg's three husbands. Patterns in Seberg's personal relationships are deduced from her films, and much film time (perhaps too much) is spent connecting threads between two contemporaries of Seberg's, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. Recounting the roles that these women played on and off the screen, Seberg returns again and again to the similarities in their personal and professional lives, at one point slyly asking, “Dissertation, anyone?” As with his acclaimed 1992 film Rock Hudson's Home Movies, Rappaport's ability to deconstruct film history's celluloid artifacts while commenting archly but effectively on feminist issues, ideological concerns, and social mores makes From the Journals of Jean Seberg a compelling examination of the moving image. More so in this film than in his homage to Rock Hudson, Rappaport investigates the incredible power of the screen image, particularly loaded when it features the female face in fetishistic close-up. Analyzing one of her own close-ups from Breathless in which she looks directly into the camera, Seberg warns that acknowledging the camera “destroys the illusion of the illusion, and that's the one thing you don't want to do.” With his razor-sharp analysis of Seberg's career and indictment of the film industry in general, Rappaport's film promises or threatens -- depending on your outlook -- to do the same.