As Rappaport suggests Seberg was a victim of her times. Actress Mary Beth Hurt subs for Seberg, delivering caustic comments while presiding over a clip show of her work. In the first section of the film Hurt, as Seberg, recalls the event that forever changed the destiny of this small town girl from Iowa.
The event was the nationwide talent search for a 17-year-old to play Saint Joan which Seberg won for no other obvious reason than the fact that she was only 17. The film notes that Barbra Streisand supposedly tried out for the part. "Imagine how different the history of show business would have been if she had got it," says Hurt as the image of Streisand singing "People" while surrounded by flames flashes on the screen.
It was Seberg who ultimately burned at the stake in Otto Preminger's lamentable production of "Saint Joan." The notoriously sadistic Preminger actually set her on fire in his obsessive effort to coax a performance out of her. The critics, however, roasted her for playing a tragic French heroine with a flat Midwestern accent.
Ironically it was Seberg's dewy fresh all-American good looks that eventually captivated French director Jean-Luc Godard who capitalized on those looks in "Breathless." As the film points out Seberg broke "the first rule of film acting" by looking directly at the audience. She is shown staring vacantly at the camera with the wary intensity of a prisoner facing an interrogation.
Her uncanny beauty was still evident but the late Robert Rossen cast Seberg in "Lilith" because she reminded him of "a cheerleader who's cracked up." Seberg was herself on the verge of cracking up at the time. She had become a political activist in the '60's like her two contemporaries, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, whose career choices are also examined. But her support of the Black Panther movement made her a target of an FBI witch hunt. Her husband, French novelist Romain Gary, humiliated her by writing a hopelessly pretentious film in which she played a poker-faced nymphomaniac. The film concludes that it was finally all too much for Seberg who committed suicide at the age of 40.
Rappaport also provides a fresh take on film history. Displaying a rare intelligence and a
wry wit he offers some astute, tartly funny observations about the mistreatment of women by
male directors. "Is it true that the camera steals your soul?," asks Hurt, speaking on
Seberg's behalf. In Seberg's case it would appear as if the camera did just that.
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