At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Alec Baldwin and writer-director James Toback set out to make a movie about the difficulty of making movies. And now that documentary, “Seduced and Abandoned,” has premiered at Cannes. The meta quality extends to the exploits captured in the freewheeling production, which finds Baldwin and Toback wandering around the Cannes marketplace vainly attempting to raise money for a dramatic project they’ve coyly dubbed “Last Tango in Tikrit.” Worse pitches have been sold at Cannes’ global marketplace, which is part of the point: With Baldwin making his way back to movies in the wake of “30 Rock” winding down, his return provides him with an excuse to explore why so many bad projects get made while the better ones struggle for notice.
The duo initially says they want to cast Neve Campbell alongside Baldwin in the proposed erotic romance, but the lowball offers force them to consider hotter stars. However, their plight mainly provides an excuse to chat up some of the world’s greatest filmmaking talents — from Bernardo Bertolucci to Roman Polanski — as well as wealthy investors, all in service of offering a snapshot of the industry in all its paradoxical glory.
While scattershot production values (including distracting split screens and a meandering structure) may not elevate “Seduced and Abandoned” into the realm of the great cinema that its producers hope to create (HBO purchased broadcast rights ahead of the festival), their journey offers a cogent analysis of the battle between artistry and business that defines their craft. Here’s a few key takeaways.
Cannes is in conflict with itself. Toback tells Baldwin, who made his maiden voyage to the Croisette last year, that Cannes is “a split-personality festival.” On the one hand, it’s a celebration of movies; on the other hand, the marketplace, which takes place independently of the official selection, offers financing possibilities for largely crass projects that hold the greatest commercial appeal. “Cannes is history,” Toback says, meaning that it reflects the ongoing challenges of the movie business no matter what sort of shifts have taken place of late.
A movie with a good premise isn’t worth much without big stars. “You have to be a real selfish motherfucker” to produce movies, Baldwin says, a statement reflected in the constant unwillingness by various financiers to consider their Iraq-based project without a bankable cast. While Toback routinely asks for $15 million, on more than one occasion he’s offered around $5 million on the basis of Baldwin and Campbell’s limited box office power. By contrast, they discover that Jessica Chastain and Ryan Gosling (both of whom appear in the film) instigate immediate interest.
Much of the industry at Cannes has little interest in the festival program. “For most of the films at this festival, the only people who will go see them are [the filmmakers’] cousins and nephews,” says producer Avi Lerner, who coldly shoots down their proposal. At the same time, Cannes attracts a fair amount of star power that sometimes manages to pull non-commercial films into its web of media exposure. As Cannes’ artistic director Thierry Fremaux puts it, “the big films help the smaller films.”
Most filmmakers who have been established for a long time make do with the state of things. Rather than attempting to force the business into sustaining their work when nobody will fund it, many directors whose careers exploded in the sixties and seventies — including Polanski, Coppola and Martin Scorsese, who all appear in the movie — have accepted the impracticality of their profession. Coppola says he will never make a movie as successful as “The Godfather” again, calling it “a fluke,” but asserts that “cinema is an art form given to us by the gods.”
Still, the scene at Cannes is increasingly inhospitable to passionate artists. That’s largely because of the financial pressures that lurk around every staircase or open door. “Little by little, it became mean,” Coppola said.
Fremaux, for his part, shrugs off the criticism. “No money, no films,” he says. “We don’t have to be naive about this.”