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Jean Seberg -- Breathless Paperback – May 2, 2015

4.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: BearManor Media (May 2, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593931271
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593931278
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,927,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I read this book back-to-back with "Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story" by David Richards. "Played Out" has an unfortunate title, but in all other respects, it is the superior biography. Published in 1981, just two years after Seberg's suicide, it contains virtually all the information included in "Jean Seberg: Breathless" except for some incidental but charming additions such as Jean's correspondences with her maternal grandmother ("Granny Grunt").

Garry McGhee's "Jean Seberg: Breathless" obviously draws quite heavily from the earlier biography, but it sanitizes Jean's life. Jean's disintegration after the end of her marriage to Romain Gary is quite painful to read about, but in order to get a complete understanding of her life, you must be exposed to the facts of her downward spiral.

It was almost as if Jean Seberg had two different personae. Dubbed "the most unlikely of movie stars" by one observer, Jean early in her career was a remarkably buoyant, photogenic and fresh personality. French director Francois Truffaut was captivated by Seberg's performance in "Bonjour Tristesse" (1958). Then came her star turn in Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless", which cemented a place for her in film history. But after that, there is only Robert Rossen's "Lilith" (1963) to watch in order to gauge Jean Seberg's impact and lost potential. Other films in which she sparkled ("Five Day Lover", "Time Out for Love", and "Dead of Summer") are mostly European efforts and are not in circulation.

Jean Seberg was often compared to Jane Fonda. Roughly the same age, they both became involved in French New Wave films, and then strangely they both adopted leftist causes such as the Black Panther movement.
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Although I felt this book fell a bit short on creating a satisfying picture of Seberg's personality, it did give an excellent overview of her life and travails. She is someone who rose to fame at the time of a great turbulence in America (the 1960s), and it makes this bio historically fascinating. With the exception of Godard's "Breathless," Seberg's other excellent performances such as "Bonjour Tristesse" and "Lilith" have not been given their due. One thing this book lacks is a more contemporary view of her performances, given the perspective of time. "Saint Joan" is given short shrift historically and by comments Seberg made about her own performance. Today, her Joan of Arc comes across as a document of a young actor learning how to give a strong, emotional and intimate performance, and then by the end of the film, giving one. She learned along the way and in that regard it's a fascinating film to watch. Though I enjoyed this book very much, and would heartily recommend it to anyone at all interested in Jean Seberg, I felt it could have gone deeper into her psyche. Barry Paris' bio of Louise Brooks is the standard on which I base bios of famous actors. Few bios come close the depth of that book. There's a bit of that in McGee's Breathless, but I came away feeling a bit like the surface was skimmed rather than the depths plumbed. Nevertheless, as an overview of Seberg's films and life, this is very much worth reading.
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Before Mia, Twiggy & Edie, there was Jean Seberg, the original Pixie. Because her successors were, well, more successful, Jean often gets overlooked when it comes time to dole out the honors to the women who influenced the style, shape & complexion of 60's femininity. Her initial screen persona was as a kind of child-woman, pretty but not overtly sexualized. Throughout her career, her image morphed back and forth through a kind of Tippi Hedren look to the boyish, close-cropped style she had in "Breathless", the film for which she is most known, and which showcased her unique appeal most effectively.

Shirley Maclaine, Mia Farrow and Audrey Hepburn were in a similar vein with their child-women personas. These actresses all were forging a new kind of feminine identity, with a naturalness that hadn't been seen on the screen before. Of them all, I find Seberg the most interesting screen presence, if not necessarily the best actress. Is it only because she came to a tragic end that she is more compelling and enigmatic on the screen?

Certainly her performances in "Breathless", "Lillith" and even "Bon Jour Tristesse" are little marvels. Acting-wise, she reminds me of Louise Brooks, in as much as her acting doesn't announce itself boldly. It's humble, poetic, watercolory. She is not so in love with her technique that her subtle effects are marred by the bold, show-offy strokes of her "method". She is always beautiful, but in her best work, she is magical too.

Garry McGee has done a commendable job researching and writing Jean's story. At 311 pages, it is satisfyingly dense, and much more than a perfunctory synopsis of her life and infamous death from suicide in 1979.
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Format: Paperback
This is a well written biography of American actress Jean Seberg, star of the famous French New Wave film Breathless (directed by Jean Luc-Godard) as well as Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse, Airport etc. The book basically tells the story of Jean Seberg's whole life (as much as one can tell a whole life), from her early years with her family in Marshalltown, Iowa , USA to her tragic death in Paris, France in 1979 at the age of 39. There are some valuable pictures of Jean's childhood with her family, at school doing drama and of her early years in film when she was cast in Otto Preminger's Saint Joan. The writer gets quite close to what I presume was Jean Seberg's real personality, emphasising her intelligence, empathy and idealism for people early on, even quoting poetry she wrote. He doesn't go very deeply into her marriages, perhaps because of a lack of available information. The writer, Garry McGee, seems more informed about her affairs later in her life. Disappointing for me was the lack of detail about her adventures with Jean Luc-Godard in Breathless, probably her seminal film experience. Again, McGee would have been hampered by a lack of information. He portrays her life after her early twenties as one long struggle and her idealism about the Black Panthers and the FBI's denigration and pursuit of her are well documented. Her last years are very well covered and make for sad, if illuminating, reading. She was clearly poorly handled by the US film industry, who didn't understand what she offered but perhaps she also poorly handled her own career and life. There never has been any American actress, except perhaps for Grace Kelly, who had such ease, grace, beauty and talent in her younger years and her early death was a genuine tragedy. Well worth buying.
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