Published on November 30th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Seduced and Abandoned
The movie business will seduce you and abandon you, over and over again. I’m not sure whether James Toback (Tyson) and Alec Baldwin are referencing the Italian movie that played at The Cannes Film Festival in 1964, but either way, Seduced and Abandoned is also the title of their new HBO documentary. It reminded me of a little Canadian movie I saw in 1997, called Pitch, where two young nobody writers make a documentary about themselves as they try to sell their script (those two guys grew up to become Kenny and Spenny). In Pitch, they get in front of Roger Ebert, and he calls them on the whole gimmick. Seduced and Abandoned is a similar set up, but with bigger stakes — Toback and Baldwin go to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to explore the business of movies while trying to drum up a few million in cash for a Last Tango in Paris-style sexual drama they want to shoot, starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell (of all people).
The film begins to explore how money and art coincide (or don’t). Mark Damon, a big money backer, explains that there’s either big budget money or microbudget money, but nothing in between these days. Some artists lament that there is so much commerce and advertising, that it stifles true art. And on the flip side, others argue that without the giant Jack Reach-around ads and blockbusters, there would be no little ‘art’ movies. The big films support the little films. For those interested in the business of movies, and Cannes itself, these are fascinating scenes. I also found it smart that Toback and Baldwin handicap themselves by attaching Neve Campbell, that none of the backers want (did they do this on purpose? Either way, it made the movie more interesting, watching them trying to get money without switching leads). Baldwin and Toback are a good team, with Baldwin as a hilarious foil for Toback.
Here’s the problem though — the best way I could describe Seduced and Abandoned is ‘schizophrenic.’ Schizophrenia is Greek for ‘split-mind,’ and this documentary suffers from it. Toback and Baldwin get access to some legendary moviemakers, from contemporary stars like Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain, to titans like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Roman Polanski. They begin by talking about the art and business of movies and Cannes, but in many of the conversations, things spin wildly out of control. One scene goes into depth with Martin Scorsese as he tells the story of how he did a two camera set up for the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci asks Ray Liotta, “I’m funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you?” Or they spend time talking about Woody Allen’s talent as a director. Then the next thing you know, you’re cutting back to Toback and Baldwin talking to rich people that they’re trying to secure financing from. Sometimes it’s like flipping channels.
It’s almost like they got access to some of these people, then once their subjects told such great stories, they were ‘seduced’ into cutting them into the movie, even though many of the stories veered totally off topic. (That being said — while the movie is structurally maddening for its split mind, it is totally engrossing for any cinephiles, so don’t take my criticism as a reason to avoid the movie. It’s always a good time to watch Scorsese wax on about movies).
Matching the rambling disarray of the narrative, the visuals were also somewhat distracting and mishandled on some occasions. You have talking heads and scenes from famous movies fighting for visual space with split screens and movies posters popping up like spammy Internet advertising. Sometimes it works, adding depth and helping the story move along. But sometimes it’s too much, and it gets hard to focus on a terrific story someone is telling, because a bunch of other shit is bouncing up in your face like Bonestorm.
Please don’t get me started on the end (Whoops. Too late). I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that Toback has some kind of death fetish, and he dives deeply into it in the final few minutes. Whether death and the movies have something in common is an interesting question, and could be a movie or essay in itself. But here, it comes right out of left field, virtually unexplored until it pops up as a bizarre ending. Even Baldwin cracks a joke about how weird it is.
There’s a lot of absorbing moments in Seduced and Abandoned, but it’s schizophrenic, I tells ya. It’s more than one film, or rather, it’s one film is split into several different movies. One movie is about Cannes and money. One movie is a mash note to film. And one movie (or, perhaps a five minute short film) is about death and film making strange bedfellows. And we never do really find out if they get the full financing and what that will mean to their movie.