In 2012, director James Toback and his pal Alec Baldwin ran around the Cannes Film Festival pitching a movie called “Last Tango in Tikrit” to powerful film financiers and name stars, stopping along the way to chat with legendary filmmaker like Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski.
The documentary that resulted, “Seduced and Abandoned,” is an unruly, humorous portrait of the film business. Whether the pair — who discussed the film during the Television Critics Association meeting last summer — would have ever gotten cash for “Last Tango in Tikrit” was “irrelevant.”
“We didn’t know the outcome of anything in advance,” says Toback, the 68-year-old director of “When Will I Be Loved?” and writer of “Bugsy.” “Either way, we would have had our completed ‘Seduced and Abandoned.’”
Baldwin — who talks about doing everything from daytime soap operas to starring in big-budget films — says they ran around the festival “fairly pleading with people” to be in their film.
“We had some of them say yes; we had some of them say no. But I think that was what led to the excitement was we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Baldwin says.
Considering today’s market, finding someone to finance “Last Tango in Tikrit,” an updated version of the Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris” set in Iraq, was a Quixotic venture at best. Even getting financing for “Last Tango in Paris,” which starred Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in very explicit sexual roles, would be next to impossible in itself. A clip from that now landmark 1972 film shown in “Seduced and Abandoned” remains as shocking as ever, and it’s difficult to imagine the film at the local cineplex.
As Baldwin and Toback chase the cash, it becomes quickly apparent that no one was really interested in making a film just starring Baldwin and Neve Campbell (Toback’s “When Will I Be Loved?” star). So the filmmakers improvised and pursued bigger-name stars like Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger, who all listen to the pitch politely.
At one point, Gosling muses about his own beginning in the film business. He describes Hollywood as being filled “with Don Quioxte-type characters,” who are pursuing the same dream, knowing most of them won’t make it but also knowing the only way to find out is to try.
Baldwin says what’s interesting about Gosling is “how kind of edgy and savvy he is,” adding, “he’s just so much smarter about the business than I was when I was, say, that age.”
Now the actor, who won two Emmys for his role on “30 Rock,” says when he speaks to young people in the business, “I tell them ‘Give this everything you have and make it the most important thing of your life, because it’s going to require that and probably more so now than when I was young.’”
While “Seduced and Abandoned” is meant as something of a put-on, the documentary addresses some real issues in film today, including the prediction by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas that this big franchise model of moviemaking was going to implode.
“I think the crisis is much, much, much bigger than that. I think the crisis has to do with, does theatrical distribution have a future at all?” says Toback. “I think as the younger generation gets older, it’s going to be regarded as a kind of quaint, outdated medium, and that’s the real question we’re dealing with is how home entertainment will obliterate theatrical entertainment.”
In the meantime, “Seduced and Abandoned” is filled with fun storytelling about the movies and mortality. Toback asks everybody, “Are you ready to die?”
The filmmaker says the line he wrote that is his favorite was in “Bugsy” when George Raft (played by Joe Mantenga) tells Bugsy Siegel (Warren Beatty) that he’s overspent for a house.
“‘It’s all right. I can always get more. It’s only dirty paper,’” says Toback, reciting Bugsy’s line.
“And, of course, we need the dirty paper, but that’s all it is,” he continues. “But if you’re actually making something that you believe in, that’s an excitement you don’t get anywhere else or, at least, I don’t.”