It’s hardly any surprise for people who follow film news (or read this site) that cinema, at least as far as the major Hollywood studios go, is mostly a dead art. With a shift toward four-quadrant, brand pushing, sequel spawning blockbusters, the days of the $50 million drama are a distant memory. And so here comes James Toback‘s “Seduced And Abandoned,” described by the director as an “uncategorizable” film that finds him teaming with Alec Baldwin, as they set their cameras on the movers and shakers (financially speaking) in the movie biz, while talking to filmmakers and actors about their craft, moviemaking, and much more.
What most folks may not know is that the Cannes Film Festival, in addition to being one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, also boasts a massive movie market. Taking up an entire floor in the Palais, as well as numerous pavilions outside, producers, reps, film commissions and much more from around the world descend upon Cannes to make deals, sign checks and do some major business. Wonder why it seems there is a never-ending slew of new projects announced right around the festival? This is why. And so last year’s Cannes Film Festival served as the perfect place for Baldwin and Toback to pitch “Last Tango In Tikrit,” their erotic, sexually charged drama, for which they are looking to find $20-25 million to make. Neve Campbell (who worked with Toback in “When I Will Be Loved“) is lined up to co-star with Baldwin, and the director and actor take a bunch of meetings which ultimately serve as the foundation of the documentary.
Whether or not ‘Tikrit’ is real as a project (it probably isn’t) is beside the point, as Toback and Baldwin are more interested in exploring the decision-making process when it comes to funding movies. “I don’t believe in the Cannes Film Festival,” producer Avi Lerner (“Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Iceman,” “The Expendables” and many, many more) says. Admitting he’s strictly driven by the how much profit a movie can make, his blunt statement is more or less true for many of the industry people Baldwin and Toback meet. Universal’s Ron Meyer openly admits that in Hollywood nobody gets rewarded for making a good film that earns no money…but if you make a bad film, and it makes millions, you’ll come out smelling like a rose.
Highlighting the contrast between those who put up the money and those who make the movies, Toback and Baldwin spend a considerable amount of time with various directors and actors. Roman Polanski reveals that he doubled the initial (low) budget of “Repulsion” just to get it made to his liking, while acknowledging that “Rosemary’s Baby” was a product of meeting famed producer Robert Evans. In short, he’s always largely been able to make the movies he wants, and even got the ending he wanted for “Chinatown” after Robert Towne initially drafted something much happier. And the same goes for Martin Scorsese, who candidly admits he’s too old to start subverting the system, but encourages up-and-coming filmmakers to try to find ways to make movies outside the system, utilizing new technologies.
Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling shares a great anecdote about the stamina needed to make it Hollywood, sharing a typical story of a struggling actor making it to their first audition, and how they’ll continually pick themselves up after getting knocked down. And Berenice Bejo (a previous Cannes darling for “The Artist,” and this year’s Cannes darling for “The Past“) is perhaps the most level-headed of any of the talent involved, fully self-aware that the buzz of the moment never lasts, and that her future success and access to top shelf scripts is far from guaranteed.
The range of stars is enviable — Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, James Caan and more — while the insights from financial types are interesting, if not totally obvious. It’s not a shock to learn that an erotic drama with Baldwin and Campbell is a difficult sell — the consensus is that with the two of them attached, the movie is only likely to get $4-5 million from investors. And again, it’s hardly a twist that the more big name stars involved, the easier it will be to get money, and probably more than they are looking for.
“Seduced And Abandoned” (a description that Baldwin uses in his comparison of the movies to an ex-girlfriend you keep going back to) doesn’t unveil any grand revelations about the state of finding money to make movies. Yes, there are less dollars going around, and it’s becoming more difficult to make challenging, interesting projects — and so, what do filmmakers do? That’s what “Seduced And Abandoned” fails to address, with the movie more content to revel in the surreal, abstract and sometimes harsh truths about finding money, rather than endeavoring to find new avenues or — god forbid — find a way (like many directors do) to work on a smaller budget. The movie says nothing new in that regard.
And there is something slightly uncomfortable about successful people, with solid careers in the industry, being concerned at just how many millions they can get to make a movie. Most young directors or actors would kill to bend the ear of some of the people Baldwin and Toback get access to in the movie, and this is an issue that is arguably more important to up and coming moviemakers. That quibble aside, the insider look at the industry is appealing, and “Seduced And Abandoned” is enjoyable but lightweight, and if anything, reaffirms that art doesn’t come easy. [B]