Title: Seduced And Abandoned
Director: James Toback
Major Players: Alec Baldwin, James Toback, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanksi
Out Of Five? 3.5
Who can resist a peek behind a closed door? It’s what Phil and Kirsty trade on: we’re not interested in buying houses, we just want to nose around other people’s homes. Fly-on-the-wall documentaries on politics, sport or any big public institution all have their fascinations. But what about films on the movie industry?
They don’t happen too often, but Monday sees the DVD release of the documentary Seduced And Abandoned, following actor Alec Baldwin and writer/director James Toback on a quest at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to find backers for a film idea. In truth, the concept isn’t great. A re-boot of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, set in Tikrit against the background of the Iraq War, with Baldwin and Neve Campbell taking the Brando and Schneider roles. At least, that’s the theory ……
What soon becomes clear is that the two stars simply don’t have the clout to excite the potential investors, Campbell especially. And one money man dismisses Baldwin as “a TV actor!” Other names are suggested for the female lead, including Jessica Chastain. Other storylines are floated, and other locations. At the start of the film Baldwin and Toback have an idea and two stars, but no money and no script. By the end, they have even less: one star, what’s left of their idea and little else. No money, that’s for sure!
Perhaps it’s because everybody they talk to realises that the idea’s simply not a runner in the first place – even if it’s turned into a thriller or comedy, both of which are suggested. Or perhaps, and this is much more likely, they’re all in on the joke – that Baldwin and Toback have set out to puncture the egos of the money men by offering them an utter dud. And the audience is invited to watch them do it.
But the audience gets more out of it than that. For movie lovers, it’s the chance to sit back and enjoy the thoughts and reminiscences of Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Ford Coppola. Their memories of Cannes 40 years ago – a “movie Valhalla” in Scorsese’s words – how Coppola managed to shatter all his Oscar trophies, how Polanski was sold the idea of directing Rosemary’s Baby ….. it goes on. They talk, we lap it up – and so do Toback and Baldwin.
Other actors are approached and show different levels of interest, from Diane Kruger’s near-tactful suggestion that she’d like to read a script, to a permanently amused Ryan Gosling – clearly in on the gag – who regales them with anecdotes about his early performing days. Presumably any discussions about involvement in the movie hit the cutting room floor because his stories were far more entertaining.
From what we see, it’s a miracle any film ever gets made – and rather begs the question how Seduced And Abandoned itself got to the screen (some of its financial backers have walk-ons – part of the deal?). All the potential backers come across as slippery and insincere and Toback doesn’t fare much better. Do we believe him about the artistic merits of the film, let alone the fact that he genuinely wants to make it? No. Do we believe any of the money men, including those involved in Seduced And Abandoned, will put money into it? No, but nobody ever says the word. They all have their vested interests, changes they want made. In fact, they want anything but what Baldwin and Toback have to offer!
Seduced And Abandoned makes extensive use of archive material – mainly film clips and stills – and mixes it with a split screen technique that allows the audience to look at the visuals and listen to the voices of the main protagonists. So the story moves on at a brisk pace – more people to see, more stories to hear, more money not to get.
It’s an engaging watch, even more so if you’re interested in the movie industry. But perhaps there’s more to the apparent joke than just sending up the money men of the movie industry. Who are really the victims of the joke? All those people that had to listen to a sales pitch for what was sure to be a turkey? Or the audience, for believing what they’re seeing in front of them? There’s the occasional, fleeting moment when Baldwin looks directly at the camera – but there’s no wink.
Has Last Tango In Tikrit got off the ground yet? Google it …….
Seduced And Abandoned is released on DVD in the UK on 17 February.