Tag Archives: A Bout de Souffle

Style Stories: Jean Seberg

Jean Seberg seems to be having something of a moment just now, thanks partly to her iconic elfin hair-do and also to the 50th anniversary of her most famous (and stylish) film, A bout de souffle (Breathless). It’s always a treat to see the film, but the tantalising “featurette” about Seberg – one of the extra features – is a let-down. So here is a potted biog of the ill-fated actress.

In 1959, when she appeared in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless as the epitome of carefree American-in-Paris chic, Jean Seberg had the world at her feet. Still only 21, she had already been considered a wash-out after her first movie, St Joan, flopped spectacularly, but she seemed to be reborn thanks to the French New Wave.
During the 1960s, she juggled Hollywood roles with offbeat European projects until a series of disasters – in particular, the death of her baby daughter in 1969 – led to her suicide at the age of 41.
As with most things in Jean Seberg’s troubled life, the death of her child – at only three days old – was not what it seems. During her pregnancy, Seberg was heavily involved with the Black Panther movement. She was already under scrutiny by the FBI because of her political ideas, and in 1969 they planted a smear story in the Los Angeles press.
Seven months into her pregnancy, Seberg opened her paper to read the rumour that her baby had been fathered by a Black Panther and not by her husband. In shock, she went into labour and gave birth prematurely. She returned to America to bury her baby and went so far as to allow photographs to be taken of the dead infant so that she could prove she was white.
According to friends, Seberg never recovered. Every year on the anniversary of the baby’s death, she tried to kill herself. At the time of her death, the FBI denied any involvement in the false rumour, but a year after her overdose they admitted their part in the planting of the story.
Incredibly, a musical version of Seberg’s tragic and extremely confused life was staged by the National Theatre in 1983. Peter Hall directed, and Marvin Hamlisch set Christopher Adler’s lyrics to music, but – inevitably – the musical was box-office disaster. Maybe the Seberg jinx has played a part in the non-appearance in a movie version which was much talked about in the 1990s, and was originally intended to star Jodie Foster or Winona Ryder.

* A bout de souffle is out on special edition DVD on the Optimum Home Entertainment label.

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Cool Crops

The combination of the hot weather plus the cool movies I’ve been watching – notably New Wave  classic A Bout de Souffle – has led me to obsess about getting a pixie crop a la Jean Seberg, the tragic American star of the afore-mentioned French film.

Not that she’s the only 1960s movie star whose elfin style is worth emulating. How about Shirley Maclaine with the “do” she sported as Fran Kubelik in the wonderfully bittersweet comedy The Apartment?

Or Mia Farrow’s early sixties flirtation with the gamine look – the style she sported when she married Frank Sinatra.

One of the original continental gamines got in on the act too: Leslie Caron may have put Gigi behind her when she lopped her hair off, but it certainly brought her up to date.

Perhaps I was in a minority, but I adored Kate Moss’s brief dalliance with the pixie crop, around ten years ago. And I still do!

Another 1990s hair style icon is Winona Ryder who was a brilliant poster girl for the elfin crop.

Rising British star Carey Mulligan has been sporting a crop since she started appearing in the magazines but she’s the first to admit she’s not a fan. She looks cute with her short cut but for a seriously sexy take on the style, check out Natalie Portman’s hair.

But only one leading lady has stuck to the style through thick and thin – and made it well and truly her own: Dame Judi Dench. Just put her in a pair of capri pants and a New York Herald Tribune T-shirt, and, voila, you’ve got A Bout de Souffle’s Patricia 40 years on!

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Style on Film: A bout de souffle

It’s 50 years since A bout de souffle (AKA Breathless), one of the New Wave’s most stylish films, was first seen in British cinemas, and to mark the occasion a special edition DVD has just come out on the Optimum label. Playing Patricia, a naive American girl living in Paris, actress Jean Seberg (above, chic in capri pants, with Jean-Paul Belmondo) set a trend with her gorgeous, elfin hair-do and laidback look.  And her habit of lolling around in a man’s shirt…

She’s also seen in some pretty, feminine outfits – notably this demure stripy dress.

But the key to Seberg’s gamine look is the boyish haircut – balanced out by a slick of eyeliner.

And here it is in action … watch and learn!

* A bout de souffle (Optimum Home Entertainment) is out now.

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