Continuing our small tribute to Jean Seberg as prompted by the re-release of Breathless, this remarkable study by independent American film-maker Mark Rappaport makes for essential viewing. Journals is no ordinary biographical documentary.
As in his earlier film about Rock Hudson, Rappaport uses the device of a fictional autobiography (based on historical facts)to examine both Seberg’s life and work and as a means of exploring the peculiar ways that private lives are revealed in the unashamedly public medium of the movies. Actress Mary Beth Hurt plays Seberg, who narrates her life with rueful objectivity – from the disaster of her first role in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan to the acclaim for Breathless and the subsequent decline brought on by a series of disastrous marriages. An exhilarating rumination on celebrity, gender, film history, politics and the 1960s, Rappaport’s film leapfrogs from topic to topic, throwing up some startling facts and speculations. There are fascinating insights about the film-makers (Preminger, Godard, Rossen) who used her, about Seberg’s blank gaze as postmodernist harbinger, about her role as a social activist (she supported the Black Panthers), about her growth as an actress (Lilith is almost given its proper due), about her degrading performances in husband Romain Gary’s awful movies, about film history as gossip, and much else besides. In short, a brilliant film essay whose scope is much wider than its ostensible subject.