D: James Toback / 98m
Alec Baldwin, James Toback, Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Bérénice Bejo, Diane Kruger, Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, Neve Campbell, James Caan, Mark Damon, Avi Lerner, Ashok Amritraj
Deciding to make a movie together, director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin first work out the kind of movie they want to make – a Last Tango in Paris-style project set in Iraq – and who they want to co-star with Baldwin, namely, Neve Campbell. Then, they take their idea to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival in the hope of securing the financing needed to get the movie made. Along the way they speak to various people about the difficulties of getting movies made, the challenges in persuading potential investors to part with their money, and how easier/harder it was back in the Seventies to get a project off the ground.
The search for investors leads to meditations on money, fame, acting, glamour, even death, as Toback and Baldwin look at the wider aspects of movie making, and the constraints that stop some movies from being made as their makers intended. The movie also looks at the industry from both a creative and a financial standpoint, and features interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and their own experiences of funding and making movies.
Opening with a quote from Orson Welles – “I look back on my life and it’s 95% running around trying to raise money to make movies and 5% actually making them. It’s no way to live.” – Seduced and Abandoned is an often hilarious, witty and insightful look at contemporary movie making, made by a director whose own career has seen him struggle to get movies made, and an actor whose career resurgence since The Aviator (2004) has propelled him to the lower reaches of the ‘A’ List. Together, they take the viewer on a tour of the highs and lows of movie making, and even when they’re coming up against closed door after closed door, still manage to stay positive.
In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to discern if this apparent by-product documentary is the real movie or not, or just some idea they had on the back of trying to make their version of what Baldwin refers to as Last Tango in Tikrit. Although the pair are seen in several meetings pitching their ideas for the movie, they never seem entirely convincing that this is a legitimate project that they’re trying to get off the ground; they don’t even have a script yet, nor anything approaching a synopsis. (Asked point blank if she’d appear in the movie, Diane Kruger blanches and then falls back on the tried and trusted, “If I can see a script I’ll consider it” answer.) Matters aren’t helped by Baldwin’s continual references to the sex scenes the movie would include, making it seem like some weird, sexual fantasy of his own that he’s trying to get off the ground.
However unlikely the premise, though, we all know there are movies out there that have been made out of worse ideas – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), anyone? – but the reactions of veteran producers/distributors Avi Lerner and Ashok Amritraj provide a short, predatory lesson in how to get a movie made: always bear in mind the profits. Toback is told in no uncertain terms that with Campbell aboard he won’t get the $15-$20m he wants to make the movie; instead he’ll only get $4-$5m. Only in those circumstances will producers or investors feel comfortable that they’ll get their money back. It’s a harsh reality, and one that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s so casually discussed that it’s like a slap in the face.
The case for Last Tango in Tikrit being entirely a fabrication is given further credence by Toback’s almost slavish reactions to suggestions for changes to the plot and the story, and the casting. He agrees to almost all of them, seemingly eager – maybe too eager – to please his potential investors in order to secure the financing he needs. In moments such as these, Toback seems uncomfortably close to abandoning the whole concept of the movie, just as long as he gets the money to make a movie, if not the one he’s there to try and get made. (It’s a shame no one asks him to replace Baldwin with a bigger name actor; it would have been interesting to see his reaction to that.)
With Toback and Baldwin being rebuffed at every turn, and to ensure that the movie runs for more than half an hour, there are plenty of interviews with industry notables such as Martin Scorsese, who recounts some of the issues that came up when he was making Mean Streets (1973); Bernardo Bertolucci, who talks about working with Brando on Last Tango in Paris (1972); Francis Ford Coppola, who conveys his dismay at making two Godfather movies and then not being able to get backing for a movie of his own; and Ryan Gosling, whose reaction to an airplane emergency isn’t quite what you’d expect.
The movie’s sly wit and acerbic humour help to keep things interesting, and it’s a good thing as Seduced and Abandoned is a documentary that will remain largely of interest to movie buffs and/or anyone trying to get their own project off the ground. The movie does assume a degree of awareness of what goes on at Cannes, and there’s also an assumption that viewers will be up to speed on the way in which movies are financed, but the lay person may well struggle, or find it less than fascinating. And Toback doesn’t always maintain a linear focus, letting the movie wander from one meeting to another but without any clear context (and reinforcing the idea that the movie is the movie, whatever Toback and Baldwin might say).
Rating: 7/10 – with its two “leads” obviously having a whale of a time, Seduced and Abandoned comes across more as a bit of a jolly boys’ outing to Cannes rather than a properly realised documentary; as a result it lacks focus and doesn’t entirely convince, instead making it seem like a huge in-joke that Toback and Baldwin have concocted for their own amusement.