Happiness is a Warm TV

October 28, 2013

HBO’s “Seduced and Abandoned” looks at the cold calculus of creativity

The messiness of the film business is explored in the HBO documentary “Seduced and Abandoned,” which premieres Monday night.

The phrase “the film business” reveals a tension. It express a meeting of art and commerce, which can be a messy thing. That messiness is the terrain explored in “Seduced and Abandoned,” (9 p.m. Monday, HBO), an engaging documentary that follows director James Toback and Alec Baldwin as they work to find financing at the Cannes Film Festival for a film they want to make.

The movie they are pitching is an art piece -- it’s described as a political erotic adventure that takes place in Iraq, a film inspired by the sexually raw and artistically challenging “Last Tango in Paris,” directed in 1972 by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring Marlon Brando.

Toback would direct, Baldwin would star along with actress Neve Campbell.

The pair would like perhaps $15 million to make the film and so they head into the marketplace of 2012 Cannes to find investors. That’s not much to make a movie, but as the film reveals, it’s not easily obtainable. The film gives us context of how the festival has changed, what goes into the calculus of how a film is financed and for how much, and how those changing factors have affected the creativity of the medium and those who work in it.

Among those interviewed are Berenice Bejo, Bertolucci, James Caan, Jessica Chastain, Ryan Gosling (now I get all the fuss), Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese.

Because the film is unscripted -- really we’re just following Baldwin and Toback along as they have conversations -- it has the feeling of discovery and genuineness. We don’t often see the artistry of what actors and directors are doing; they sell their work but not always with a sense of their process, the choices they’re making, the insight and drive that got them there.

There’s something really lovely about hearing them express such things. It also shows the crazy thinking of the industry. For instance, Baldwin is at one point dismissed as the film’s lead. Why? “He’s a TV actor!” No matter that he started in film, and probably came to TV when film work dried up.

If you’re not a film lover, you might find this all a bit esoteric.

But both Baldwin and Toback are characters and I think they do a good job of keeping things interesting just because they’re interesting people. And if you have an ounce of creativity in you, and you have likely felt the frustration of all the things that can get in the way of your expression. But if you continue to pursue your passion anyway, you’ve been seduced and abandoned too.

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