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Mark Rappaport's creative bio-pic about actress Jean Seberg is presented in a first-person, autobiographical format (with Seberg played by Mary Beth Hurt). He seamlessly interweaves cinema, politics, American society and culture, and film theory to inform, entertain, and move the viewer. Seberg's many marriages, as well as her film roles, are discussed extensively. Her involvement with the Black Panther Movement and subsequent investigation by the FBI is covered. Notably, details of French New Wave cinema, Russian Expressionist (silent) films, and the careers of Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, and Clint Eastwood are also intensively examined. Much of the film is based on conjecture, but Rappaport encourages viewers to re-examine their ideas about women in film with this thought-provoking picture. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
When Mary Beth Hurt auditioned for the role of Jean Seberg, she shocked the filmmakers by revealing that not only was she born in the same town as Seberg (Marshalltown, Iowa), their families were neighbors who knew each other. See more »
The negatives comments this film has received make me think that the commentators haven't taken a college literature course before (or at least not in a while). I don't mean this in a mean way; it's simply that one sitting in a classroom while twenty people write twenty papers about one work of literature with twenty different takes on it can be a sobering & educational experience. Short of the author writing another book after his or her first book & explaining the previous work, there's really no way to state with certainty what the point of it all was. (& even then, some people would distrust the author's explanation.) The same goes for music, art, poetry, & of course film.
What Rappaport has done here is written a paper, using the approved standard of evidence most college-level courses require, theorizing about the life & work of actress Jean Seberg. That he sometimes casually throws out theories as fact is standard for such essays, papers, what-not. It may seem a little crass to think of someone's life as being open to interpretation, but surely one can understand that there is always something social or political about presenting the story of one's life in, say, cable TV's "Biography" method, which tends to leave out or just touch on the gruesome sexual encounters or the public humiliations, or VH1's "Behind the Music" style, which focuses on nothing but.
Rappaport does something different than both of those. Seberg's life is explained through the films she's in, which, he suggests, is inextricably linked to the men she loved, which is inextricably linked to the times she was living in, the political role she chose to play, & the other actresses whose careers ran parallel to hers. Is it all factual? More or less - facts are lined up to support the thesis, which is basically a feminist commentary on the role of women in film, backed up with some fascinating (if maybe not entirely tenable) connections with things as different as Russian formalist silent cinema & Spaghetti Westerns. & lots of interpretation - Rappaport has written words for Mary Beth Hurt, as Jean Seberg, to comment on her looks, her acting style, the roles she played. To believe that he had access to some real "journals" of Seberg is somewhere between silly & gullible.
See, it's not even pretending to be objective truth. If it were, why would it be narrated by an actress playing Jean Seberg, who's nearly twenty years dead by the making of the movie? It's a thesis, an idea, something thrown out for you to chew on & think about. You are of course free to disagree with the filmmaker, & it's eminently healthy to question or criticize such undertakings, as one should criticize a Ken Burns or an Errol Morris. Negative reactions to films such as this one make me feel a little sad, because I think the point has been missed. This is an especially engaging film, about a good-but-not-necessarily-great actress whose famous roles have captured the minds of those film buffs geared to become part of this or that cult following. That her life was tragic is a matter of record. Short of asking her, which will require a trip to the other side, Rappaport has put words in her mouth to tell you what he thinks about her life & work. Though not making movies ourselves, we do much the same thing when we talk about films, books, records, works of art to our friends, co-workers, family, teachers, students.
I'm not a professor, but if I were, & if this movie were a paper, I'd give it an A. It's a damn good read, & well documented. So to speak.
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