“Seduced and Abandoned”: a review from the Savannah Film Festival

Film buffs and industry insiders will likely be enthralled by many of the interviews and clips in the new documentary from James Toback and Alec Baldwin, Seduced and Abandoned. (Toback is the credited director and writer on IMDB, but it seems like this picture would not have been made without Baldwin.)

The film paints Toback and Baldwin as semi- or slightly- or maybe not-at-all-serious filmmakers trying to scare up millions of dollars from producers at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for an as yet unwritten project starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell. They pitch the movie as Last Tango in Tikrit

As Toback and Baldwin talk to each other about the concept and later interview a handful of great directors, we see clips from some extraordinary moments in cinematic history.

So there’s Roman Polanski talking about the Polish authorities’ reactions to Knife in the Water, before he made his way west.

And there’s Bernardo Bertolucci talking not only about filmmaking but about his youthful love for his mentor Pier Paolo Pasolini’s poetry.

Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola are interviewed as well, and so too is the much younger filmmaker Diablo Cody and a smattering of young actors, including Ryan Gosling.

All of these folks have some interesting stories to tell about the film business and about their success. Gosling is especially compelling as he talks about the endless stream of auditions that aspiring actors endure, all following the same vision of certain stardom.

“No one is sure if it was a premonition or a delusion,” Gosling says, in one of the documentary’s best moments.

Along the way, the story is propelled by a vast array of film clips: Last Tango in Paris, Harvard Man, Repulsion, State and Main, 1900, Taxi Driver, The Shining, The Conformist, and on and on.

I don’t know how some of this would play with viewers with limited knowledge of film history, but I found many of these passages were thrilling to watch.

Some Cannes insiders tell some great stories as well, like one about the time Robert Altman slung the “c” word at Pauline Kael in the airport after Kael and other judges had given no awards to 3 Women. I’m largely unfamiliar with the history of Cannes, so there are plenty of gems here.

But as it wears on, Seduced and Abandoned becomes less and less about the creative process and more and more about the problem of funding films.

Repeatedly, we see Toback and Baldwin talk to commonsense producers who don’t think that the Last Tango concept with Baldwin and Campbell would do well at the box office. So they start suggesting other stars and other concepts — of course they do.

These passages would have told us a lot more about the film industry if Toback and Baldwin had been pitching a strong concept, a finished screenplay, and obviously appropriate attached talent.

But, as it is, the conversations with producers largely ring hollow, since none of them even have a chance of signing on.

By this time, Seduced and Abandoned has started to get a little tedious, despite the winning personalities and on-screen personae of Baldwin and Toback.

Instead of then exploring other alternative funding sources and cheaper ways of shooting a film, the pair start interviewing the super-rich who could fund the entire picture with the wave of a hand. Of course, the likes of Taki Theodoracopulos and Denise Rich aren’t interested in Toback’s pitch either, and it’s unclear at this point if anyone’s interests are being served. (Although that sure looks like a nice lunch on Taki’s boat.)

So there are fabulously wealthy people out there who could fund lame movies, but choose not to. So what? We get the point early on, and none of the super-rich are given much to say.

At best, the latter stretches of the film feel a little redundant; at worst, self-indulgent.

I found myself wanting more of Gosling, Cody, and the younger interviewees. Baldwin told the Savannah Film Festival audience on Monday night that Seduced and Abandoned cost about $2.4 million; Cody’s Juno cost only three times that much and has grossed over $200 million worldwide.