Film Scouts Interviews

Mark Rappaport on "From the Journals of Jean Seberg"

by Karen Jaehne

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February 24, 1996

Mark Rappaport is as much journalist as filmmaker, and therefore, a challenge to interview. In order to make a film about the actress Jean Seberg, he did two years of research and developed some well-grounded ideas about Hollywood, Europe and their point of intersection, namely Jean Seberg.

His "autobiography" is invented out of films and accounts of what happened in her tumultuous life.

Q: Was Jean Seberg a great actress-apart from the drama of her life and notoriety raised by her persecution by the CIA?

Rappaport: Acting for the screen is very peculiar, because it's all in the face, skin and eyes. You don't have to be a great actor to register on screen. It's not like performing in a theater for 2000 people, doing Ibsen. She did have something very, very special. And in "Lilith," she is extraordinary. I have seen her, for example, in "Breathless" many, many times, and she has wonderful instincts; that movie was more or less improvised, so she had the opportunity to display her talent and timing. And it was estimable.

Q: Is her move abroad a comment on the failure of Hollywood and success of European cinema in the late 80s?

Rappaport: You mean because the European Preminger's "Joan of Arc" was a Hollywood disaster? It's ironic that she's so good in "Bonjour Tristesse"-that's how she came to Godard's attention. There's a kind of freedom she got from movies where she was given room to represent a new kind of woman, I think. In Hollywood, doing movies like "Paint Your Wagon," she was more or less doomed by a movie that sunk Josh Logan's career. It seems that Seberg made a wise choice in focusing on European directors, but...that's also where she met men who exploited her and kept her from developing. Still, Europe was exciting there in the 60s, so it's understandable that she'd stay.

Q: Seberg had iconographic value in Europe-as an American woman. Is there a paradox in the way that her value to European movies turned against her in her personal life?

Rappaport: Well, European ideas of what's American is so off the loopy, because if it doesn't conform to their ideas about what's wrong with America. To talk about he way Europeans perceive America is a kind of dead-end discussion to me.

Q: But that seems to be the crux of Jean Seberg's career. What was she if not an American in Paris?

Rappaport: One thing I'm definitely not interested in is the psychology of why this or that happened. For that you should read a novel by Carlos Fuentes called "Diana, She Who Hunts Alone." When the character Diana talks, you can see Seberg's face and hear her voice. Unfortunately, she was one of those women who needed to be in love in order to do anything. If you always have to be in love, you're going to make disastrous choices.

Q: And she was surrounded by a lot of very strange people....

Rappaport: You know, I found out more strange things after I made the film than when I was doing research, because people would come up and say she did godawful stuff I just didn't want to know. It's too bad that she didn't have the chance to profit from feminism or any idea of how to take hold of her own life.

Q: It seems to me she was really a 1950s heroine who was thrust into a 1960s world where ideas had been overhauled, and she was not able to deal with the independence that was suddenly thrust upon her.

Rappaport: She was a love-junkie and way too generous. For example, if somebody said, would you be in my film, she'd say sure, I'll do it. She helped each of her husbands make a first film, and an artist can't afford to do that. Your time is brief on this earth, you just can't help everybody else. You have to keep something for yourself.

Q: It's hard to get a fix on the self of Jean Seberg.

Rappaport: True. She was a very hopeful, upbeat person who lead an insecure, downbeat life. She's very interesting as someone very beautiful, very special, but someone you'd never want to be like.

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