Part masterclass in acting, part meta exploration of film production, Seduced and Abandoned takes viewers on a journey superbly directed, narrated and starring Alec Baldwin and James Toback. The film is set around the monolithic film festival that is the Cannes and it sets out with the lofty goal of getting enough finance and enough bankable actors together to produce a film called Last Tango In Tikrit (YO DAWG, I HEARD YOU LIKE MOVIES).
Each person who watches this film will take away one theme as being stronger than the others, whether it is the examination of the acting process, the pessimistic view of the way films are made or the phenomenal insights into the eminent film directors of our day. For mine it was the concept of mortality that is awash in this film that really holds it all together. There is a ominous and palpable sense that the process of making a film is not dissimilar to the process of living and dying, in that each incorporates substantial struggle, frustration and ultimate defeat whether that be at the hands of financiers or the grim reaper. Unsurprisingly, Baldwin and Toback handle the subject with aplomb and Ryan Gosling shines as he explains the importance of making sure your last meal is a tasty one.
There’s a cheek and humour about this film that makes it eminently relatable. Alec Baldwin is charming as himself, a tragic film romantic who has reached a point of complete cosmic zen. He is not the least bit perturbed when industry money-men rebuke his marquee value directly to him claiming he is worth but one tenth of his initial budget projections for his political thriller featuring himself and (spoiler alert?) Neve Campbell. If you’re a fan of Baldwin’s TV work (30 Rock) it might come as a surprise to you that even for someone with the sort of brand recognition that he has, there are aspects of the entertainment industry that are virtually out of his reach.
If Baldwin and Toback are the romantics in this equation the money-men and financiers are painted as the bland, conservative rationalists. There’s is the quest for the ‘no risk’ film project, avoiding any sort of gamble to return to investors exactly what the expect, a profit with a minimum of fuss. Needless to say this is a constant source of contempt for Baldwin and Toback, but Baldwin in particular who can see cinematic classics like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver never being made in today’s economic risk averse climate.
One of the highlights of the film are the interviews that give insight into particular director’s objectives in some of their most successful films, along with candid explanations of their success and failure in the film world. Baldwin and Toback have access to directors the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, and Bertolucci. Roman Polanski, a survivor of the Holocaust and former resident of the Kraków Ghetto, gives a fascinating insight into the inspiration behind the film The Pianist. Coppola talks openly about the aberration that was the Godfather trilogy and gives an honest account of just how likely he is to repeat the unlikely success of this trilogy.
At its heart, Seduced and Abandoned is a film about a business, a big business with dozens of competing parties vying for the best script, the best part or the best investment. The film conveys a setting where actors and directors are merely participants in a game that is dictated by those who wield the real influence, the backers, the producers and the millionaires who are the real guests of the Cannes Film Festival.
Perhaps it is only natural that concepts of mortality become centrepiece as film makers are constantly and repeatedly forced to justify their proposals, deploy business plans and make creative concessions to secure the funding they need to turn their creative fantasies into reality. To me the film is both precocious and resoundingly pessimistic in its take on the film industry, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and worth visiting Cinema Nova in Carlton, where it is on a very limited run.