Ready those chequebooks. With a silvering quiff and a deadly smile, actor and star Alec Baldwin and respected writer, director and co-conspirator James Toback, pilgrimage for an adequate investment for their next project, provisionally dubbed Last Tango in Tikrit. Along their quest for financing, the dynamic duo questions the very fabric of film, asking whether it still thrives as art or industry. Behind the red curtain, Baldwin and Toback encounter some familiar and famous faces with lively and often comical tales of their own. Seduced and Abandoned records their adventure and reflects the tiresome and often misconceived process of filmmaking. While it may struggle to navigate through the many themes, the uncategorisable film radiates with a refreshing take on a recycled story.
With two pairs of black shades and an unyielding hope between them, this delightful story shows the other side of the camera, the ugly and often unseen process of making a feature film. Every individual, location and memory is brought to life with clippings of cinematic history. Like a brochure on the filmmaking process and a brief film history lesson at the same time, the documentary seeks to explore the process and makes some startling observations about Festival de Cannes and the industry. Once a quaint home to the world of film, the French film festival has apparently been blindsided by fame and has lost its respect for the art form. Now a changed personality, Cannes is characterised by the drone of the press, extreme Hollywood influence and, recently, overrated directors as lead jury members.
Offering a diverse palate with sentiments that are refreshing and wise from talent young and old, the film often loses its way amidst the subject matter. Film as art or business, the place of glamour and fame in the industry and death are but some of the hefty concerns of Toback’s documentary. The gravity of these themes anchors the film to a sobering reality, creating a clear and powerful message of the industry. We may get lost amongst the different locations, names and jobs or get distracted by Ryan Gosling’s looks, but at the end of this exhausting and often melancholy adventure a prominent idea emerges. The struggle to finance a production like Last Tango in Tikrit suggests that the currency of art is less than the dollar bill.
Everything from the French New Wave and the efforts of Cahiers du cinéma to the family disputes of Martin Scorsese’s classics and the decapitated horse heads courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia aligns film as a master craft, a creative endeavour and a piece of art by challenging and even reshaping the landscape of the medium. Seduced and Abandoned shatters that mirage and likens the medium to a torn stub in a chequebook rather than an art form. This message is most clearly seen by the general absurdity surrounding marketing. The responses and requests made by marketing and financing representatives are bizarre jokes on a tiresome process. However glum and tedious this may appear, a line of zeros on a blank cheque cannot dissuade the passion for cinema that Toback feels. His love for film translates as an obsession for the arts, for the creative and for those small moments of genuine cinematic beauty. In its closing moments, Toback makes an almost poetic comparison between film and death, knowing that when those final moments come to an end the spectator will be left alone, deserted in emptiness and darkness.
The documentary both celebrates and criticises the world of film and results in a fun and entertaining journey. With a flair for the romantic, the sentiments of Baldwin go a long way towards describing the relationship that bonds the spectator to the picture, comparing it as “the worst lover […] you are seduced and abandoned over and over again” – almost as if there is a fatal attraction. Seduced and Abandoned is a film audiences should see, but most likely, almost definitely, won't. Why critique the woes of a spiralling industry and risk tainting the illusion when cinemas can sell fantasies, dreams and popcorn?