“Seduced and Abandoned,” a documentary which premiered last year on HBO, begins with a tragic quote from Orson Welles: “I look back on my life and it’s 95% running around trying to raise money to make movies and 5% actually making them. It’s no way to live.”
Writer/director James Toback has spent a majority of his life putting his various personal addictions, as well as hard earned revelations, into cinematic form. Whether it’s his addiction to women and sex (Two Girls and a Guy, The Pick-Up Artist), drugs and sports (Harvard Man), or straight up gambling (his Fyodor Dostoevsky influenced The Gambler), Toback isn’t afraid to turn his destructive passions into narrative form.
With Seduced and Abandoned (98 minutes), Toback’s lifelong addiction of cinema is front and center, as he and Alec Baldwin attempted to find financing for a film that would star Baldwin and Neve Campbell (she worked with Toback in his 2004 feature When Will I Be Loved). Their idea is to shoot a modern day version of Last Tango in Paris, the Bernardo Bertolucci feature which arguably contains Marlon Brando’s most emotionally revealing work.
“Making movies is the oxygen of my being,” says Toback, who intended his film to be an intimate tale of two people that would be set against a large, politically charged backdrop.
Their 2012 visit to the Cannes Film Festival (it was Baldwin’s first experience with the French Riviera) was met with a mixture of reverie and resigned disappointment. On the plus side, the documentary features interviews with a wide array of actors and filmmakers of the highest order (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jessica Chastain, Roman Polanski, Bertolucci, James Caan, Ryan Gosling). If you want to check out a loving ode to cinema that’s filled with memorable stories (Gosling’s near death experience on a plane is a particular highlight), Seduced and Abandoned doesn’t disappoint.
Their meetings with financiers, billionaires, and movie studio power players, though often engaging and entertaining, end up as ultimately bracing conversations about the reality of the business. Producer Mark Damon claims a film with Toback, Baldwin and Campbell attached would only receive $4-5 million in financing (Toback was aiming for a budget over triple that amount). Even with all the wonderful discussions about the transcendent impact of cinema, Seduced and Abandoned is an honest look at filmmaking’s bottom line: if you don’t have a young, hot star attached to your film, don’t expect tons of money to back your production.
Toback and Baldwin certainly know this truism, but as Baldwin sums it best regarding his continued (and bittersweet) love for films – “You are seduced and abandoned over and over again.”
Special Features on the DVD includes a 9-minute lunch conversation between Toback and Baldwin. The chat mainly centrals on Toback’s early exploration into his psyche and how that journey influenced The Gambler (which was directed by Karel Reisz) and his 1978 drama Fingers.