Monday, March 2, 2020

Radical chic a la Seberg

The new film Seberg, directed by Benedict Andrews, who wasn’t even born when the events in the film take place, takes one facet of the 1960s iconic actress’s life and blows it up. That aspect is Jean Seberg’s politics. Never mind that Seberg is best identified as the literal face of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s first and breakthrough 1960s film Breathless (Seberg is the one in the New York Herald Tribune shirt). Nor the rest of her filmography. Instead, during our hyper politicized current era, why wouldn’t Andrews want to focus only on her politics and the US government’s surveillance of her support for various 1960s radical causes? And it fits to a T with Hollywood’s current leftist zeitgeist. Having said that this was a remarkable chapter in an actor’s history, the revolutionary Left of the 1960s and the FBI’s extraordinary and often illegal spying on dissidents. The film has been panned for providing a superficial look at Seberg’s character. But if you’re only focusing on one chapter in her life how much more can you do? Superficial or not Kristen Stewart as Seberg bears an uncanny resemblance to the actress. And, to her credit, Stewart, an actor of some substance, brings as much heft as she can to the role. As for the plot, well, it is what it is. The focus squarely is on the FBI COINTELPRO program. Having grown up in the late 1960s (high school) I had completely forgotten about Seberg being the most spied upon Hollywood actor of the era. Seberg was aiding the Black Panthers, a revolutionary African American group which took up arms against what they called police brutality at a time when there really was widespread police violence. Seberg becomes infatuated with black nationalist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), has an affair with him (both are married), and donates liberally to Panther causes. There’s a scene in her opulent Hollywood home where Tinseltown’s elite gather to toast the Panthers, still wearing their leather jackets and berets. It’s reminiscent of how elite groups fete revolutionaries – their supposed enemies - like composer Leonard Bernstein’s hosting a New York cocktail party for the Panthers, immortalized by writer Tom Wolfe as “radical chic.” Some of the technical aspects of this movie are good, such as the array of surveillance equipment and period sets that mostly re-create the era; but they got the plane wrong, substituting a 707 for a 747. So, this is a film about nasty US government policies, though anyone who lived through the era remembers groups like the Panthers as indeed being threatening and the USA on the brink of revolution amidst riots and bombings. And Stewart as Seberg looks fabulous, especially in those shimmering striped minidresses; she’s the best thing about Seberg.

No comments:

Post a Comment