James Toback and Alec Baldwin‘s fascinating documentary Seduced and Abandoned opens with a quote from Orson Welles, which attests that 95% of the time and energy expended making a film is actually devoted to securing funds rather than, you know, actually making the film. Toback and Baldwin aim to put this to the test here in a film detailing their visit to last year’s Cannes Film Festival to try and sell a Last Tango in Paris-esque jaunt starring Baldwin (ostensibly, in the Brando role) and Neve Campbell.
Toback and Baldwin both attest that what we’re watching is neither a full-out documentary or narrative feature, but rather a crude amalgam of the two. What is certain, however, is that it’s a downright hilarious subversion of the act of filmmaking itself. Toback was smart to choose Baldwin as his brother in arms, because the 30 Rock star consistently steals the show here, trading witticisms and razor-sharp, self-deprecating jibes with the acclaimed director.
The duo talk to a litany of legendary filmmakers, actors and producers throughout the film, perhaps most notably Martin Scorsese, who begins by summarizing the entire drive to make films in the first place: the pursuit of art (not an opinion all directors are likely to share, mind you). And with that, it’s off to Cannes. While sitting in a festival press screening watching a film about Cannes seems oddly self-serving at first, the film generally engages with the event less as a showcase and more as a film market, which typically takes place behind closed doors. In situating themselves deep within the trenches of the most prolific film market in the world, Toback and Baldwin are able to make broader statements about the economy of cinema at large.
And to be fair, they talk to just about everyone they could presumably get their hands on, with the result feeling well-nourished above all else. What the majority of these subjects do — especially Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and the two interviewers themselves — is cement the insanely fickle nature of getting a film funded, all prior to the myriad setbacks that can occur during the actual shooting. Several buyers the duo talk to demand drastic changes to the film’s pitch to raise anything close to their $15-20 million ballpark figure, such as replacing Campbell with Jessica Chastain, surrounding Baldwin with an exotic cavalcade of established foreign actors, and changing the setting from the Middle East to America. All of these factors, it seems, would raise the market value up three- or four-fold.
One of the more compeling sections in the film occurs when subjects are asked why they make movies, and the likes of Ryan Gosling, Chastain and Scorsese — the latter of whom was facing a career in the seminary before filmmaking came along — give particularly illuminating answers, highlighting their inherent love of cinema. Gosling gives some unexpectedly blunt complaints, also, about the filmmaking process, such as how time-consuming wide shots are filmed but rarely used in the final product. And Berenice Bejo proves stunningly self-aware regarding her small post-Oscar window to make a name for herself.
The closing statement of the film might be pessimistic. It implies there are no more visionary studio heads, only bean-counters, and that marketability is more important than a good story. But in talking to the subjects, the goal of filmmaking entire eventually becomes clear: immortality. Toback bluntly asks filmmakers as old as Scorsese and Bernardo Bertolucci (and himself, of course) whether they are ready for death, resulting in a potent, stirring mix of answers. At the the end of the day, Toback and Baldwin don’t uncover a solution to the industry’s market issues, but they deliver a rousing documentary that will affirm your love for both cinema and life.
The Upside: Benefitting hugely from the consistently hilarious to-and-fro between Toback and Baldwin, this is a massively entertaining movie about movies that has picked its audience well by screening at this festival.
The Downside: The early sections that discuss the festival explicitly seem rather self-indulgent from the perspective of the programme organisers, and the film likely has limited appeal outside of film industry circles.
On the Side: The film Toback and Baldwin were trying to sell was tentatively, and hilariously, titled “Last Tango in Tikrit.”