Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Muse: Jean Seberg.

My favorite era of film is the French New Wave cinema--Godard, Truffaut, Lelouch, etc.  I was introduced to Jean Seberg as most probably were, through her role in Breathless.  Her style is a very simple, but so captivating in black and white: Mod pixie pared down to the basics, kept very fresh with a bohemian ease to it-- as if she hadn't spent a second of her life thinking about what to wear, she just sticks to the basics and always looks simple and polished.   The film has the same style balance of polish and nonchalance.  There are lots of jump-cuts while the actors, either graceful or grizzly, are dressed in casual cool ensembles and share rambling conversations.  

Jean Seberg plays Patricia the collegiate American girlfriend of the illusive, Humphrey Bogart-loving criminal Michel. Clearly, she's got an affinity for stripes (her outfits generally have at least one striped item in them).  Her look is a fresh balance between masculine and feminine.  She dons a short blond, effortless Mia Farrow pixie cut, a beauty mark on her cheek, and is often seen in cigarette capris or waist cinching, voluminous skirts.  Her style is not fussy in the least, but still feminine in a pared down way.  Who could forget her, manning her intern job, in the New York Herald Tribune tshirt?  She's such a vision of 60s cool that I wondered why she was not more well-known as an actress and fashion icon.

Though Seberg was new to me when I first saw this, turns out that had a long string of movies in both Hollywood and France (34 films total) though most of her other work did not secure the classic status that Breathless had.  Patricia was her most noted role as critics found her beauty more noteworthy than her handling of her characters in other her films and a burst of poor press stemming from personal problems stunted her career. 

Born in the midwest to Swedish lineage, Seberg was discovered by the director of her first films Otto Preminger.  Seberg eventually married Francois Moreuil in the late 50s and he directored her next film Playtime in 1961.   After their short-lived marriage she wed French author Romain Gary.  Seberg had a child with Gary and continued acting in films.  But her life soon firmly landed in domestic disputes, guilt, and anxiety as her affairs came to Gary's attention.  While filming Paint Your Wagon (1969) she developed a romantic relationship to Clint Eastwood.  Gary soon found out and became enraged, challenging Eastwood to "a duel" in the old tradition.  Eastwood, strangely considering his image, declined and Gary sought to divorce Seberg.  

During the late 60s Seberg had become increasingly political.  She used her fame to support causes ranging from The Black Panther Party to Native American schools to the NAACP.  Her increasing participation in social justice causes, particularly groups branded radical at the time such as the Black Panthers, got the attention of J Edgar Hoover who pronounced Seberg 'dangerous'.  Increasingly aware of the survelliance and wire tapping the government began to keep tabs on her, she spiralled down into a world of anxiety.  Especially since she also developed a relationship with a student activist named Carlos Nevarra.  In 1970 she became pregnant with Nevarra's child and the FBI swooped in stop Seberg's career and consequently, public image and political pull.  They leaked a false story that she was pregnant by a Black Panther Party leader, cheating and lying to her current boyfriend Nevarra about her affair and pregnancy, while also exposing to her husband Romain Gary that she had cheated on him and was pregnant.  Gary divorced her and  Seberg was beside herself with grief and fear of the government's mounting interest to stalk and intimdate her.  She delivered the baby shortly after the rumour and the baby died days later.  Seberg said the FBI rumour caused her so much grief that she prematurly gave birth, leading to the child's death.

Her noted film after the personal tragedies was the disaster film from 1970 Airport.She remarried in 1972 to another director Dennis Barry but Seberg was so deeply wounded by her last relationships and death of her daughter that she developed a dependence on prescription drugs and alcohol.  Every year that marked the birthday of her deceased daughter she attempted to commit suicide.  In 1979, despite her legal marriage to Barry, she attempted to marry an Algerian party-fixture Ahmed Hasni, she went through the ceremony though the marriage had no legal grounding due to her current marriage.  Of course, this relationship was also short-lived as Hasni reportedly abused her and took most of her money, causing her to return to Paris alone.

That year, 1979, Seberg went missing and was found dead a week later in car parked near her Paris apartment.  A high level of barbituates and alchol was found in her system along with a suicide note in her hand simply saying "Forgive me, I can no longer live with my nerves".  Her death was instantly ruled suicide, though some question how she could have operated her car in that state and with out her contact lenses to see.  She was aged 40 when she died and her second husband Romain Gary commited suicide soon after her. Her son, Alexandre Gary still survives.
There are talks of a biopic on Seberg with Kirsten Dunst in the starring role.

Here's a startingly interview with a French journalist, foreshadowing Seberg's later battles with anxiety and depression.  The interviewer is very direct and prying about Seberg's personal troubles but Jean tries to be breezy and casual about the whole thing:


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