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Seduced and Abandoned | James Toback

[…] With respect to the criticized “corporatization” of film production, this collective attitude seems to be more an unobtainable desire than a reality.

[…] Starting with a wonderful quotation by John Updike, he develops this Fitzgeraldian, almost decadent motive through to an unexpected existential climax: to him the hidden drive behind Cannes, Hollywood, and big cinema in general is nothing other than the desire for immortality itself, the rules and limits of each film being the prefiguration of death.

[…] Hence, the movie also becomes more personal, almost a self-portrait; we are in front of a brilliant speaker and professional writer, and certainly a chuffed surfer of the film world, who perfectly embodies an intelligent cynicism and a light optimism at the same time – a typically American character indeed.

The queen Dido was seduced and abandoned by Aeneas, the foreigner, the traveller. Here Alec Baldwin tells us how he was seduced and abandoned by the great cinema of Scorsese, and James Toback tells, more generally, of how he has been seduced and abandoned again and again by millionaire Hollywood productions. The big “machine of dreams” costs the authors and actors years of sacrifices before they are able to get involved in important productions. Orson Welles once said – in a quote that opens Seduced and Abandoned – that he spent 95% of his time trying to get his films financed and only 5% of his time making them. Before the dreams and delusions that we all get to live through movies, the initial dreams and delusions are those of the people that want to make movies.

James Toback’s inquiry into the backstage of a film production is very original: we see Toback and Alec Baldwin go to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to meet the ultimate investors of his new film, Last Tango in Tikrit. This results in a “performative” documentary approach to investigating the Cannes market scene, where investors, producers and authors meet and try their luck. But at the same time, Toback’s film is a self-declared celebration of cinema in general thanks to the many meetings with old and new legends of cinema. With Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Ryan Gosling, Bérénice Bejo, and many others, Seduced and Abandoned pays hommage to the passion for movies in the festive temple of cinema that is the Cannes Film Festival. If today’s French Riviera seems decadent or is simply trapped in the glories of the past, Toback’s hommage is deliberately nostalgic as is stressed by the “programmatic” use of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite. But this nostalgic touch combines with a lucid criticism of the cinema market, behind which there are no more individual investors and passionate film enthusiasts but corporate agencies that are just calculating the “bankability” of the star system without taking any risks.

In this context we can imagine Toback’s intentions behind his peculiar use of editing: Seduced and Abandoned flows in a quick tempo putting all of the exceptional interviewees together in order to create one choral discourse. We have the impression that all of these people – old and new millionnaires, agents, producers, actors, directors – speak together, as if they would all be at the same exciting party. With respect to the criticized “corporatization” of film production, this collective attitude seems to be more an unobtainable desire than a reality. Indeed, it is probably the hope of taking part in a collective joyful folly that forms the very nostalgic tone of Seduced and Abandoned.

Toback does not leave this tone resounding alone in the noisy party atmosphere of Cannes however; starting with a wonderful quotation by John Updike, he develops this Fitzgeraldian, almost decadent motive through to an unexpected existential climax: to him the hidden drive behind Cannes, Hollywood, and big cinema in general is nothing other than the desire for immortality itself, the rules and limits of each film being the prefiguration of death. One of the main virtues of Seduced and Abandoned is how the film slowly lets such a deeper development build. Without abandoning the elated atmosphere of Cannes, we experience a true transfiguration of the main theme of the film: the inquiry into the film market becomes a genuine confrontation with the question of one’s readiness to die. Hence, the movie also becomes more personal, almost a self-portrait; we are in front of a brilliant speaker and professional writer, and certainly a chuffed surfer of the film world, who perfectly embodies an intelligent cynicism and a light optimism at the same time – a typically American character indeed. In the end, Toback’s working hypothesis of Cannes as the symbol of how the film world strives towards immortality is confirmed, for almost no one out of the illustrious interviewees will answer positively to the question: «Are you ready to die?».

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: April 12, 2017

Seduced and Abandoned | Film | James Toback | USA 2013 | 98’ | FIFF 2017

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