Actor Alec Baldwin and film director James Toback want to get together to create a project, but there's something holding them back: the money. They've noticed this is a recurring theme when it comes to making movies, that the money is always an obstacle even when there is financing available, as Orson Welles said 95% of his time was spent running around trying to raise funds for his projects while 5% was spent actually filming, and that has never been more true for the business than it is today. Therefore, armed with their movie premise they hit The Cannes Film Festival to see if they can get anyone interested in an update of Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris starring Alec and Neve Campbell...
Which you may have noticed is a terrible idea for a movie, not that anyone is prepared to admit as such in this documentary which saw the unlikely team up of Baldwin and Toback out to make a point. If their idea for a sex drama (made in Iraq!) was legitimate, then this would be excruciatingly embarrassing because out of politeness nobody they talk to who actually has the power to invest comes right out and says, guys, this sounds awful, nobody would want to go and see this, but since they were only fooling to kick off the actual work they were crafting, then that's fine and we can relax, er, can't we? Because the dynamic duo still appear convinced they can be major players again.
Baldwin was just finishing up his run on sitcom 30 Rock, a role which had justifiably won him acclaim, but had also taken him from cinematic leading man status and into a face of television, which shouldn't make much difference but did seem to prevent him headlining movies as he had before. As for Toback, he was a tenacious director who would never say die, conjuring up various low budget projects down the years in spite of a lack of public interest (one of those flops starred Campbell, who is a good sport as far as this goes); although many found him sleazy and pretentious, there were others who had a grudging respect for him, not least because he actually managed to get stuff done on what looked like his own terms.
That begins to be called into question once the interviews commence and that old concern about art versus commerce rears its ugly head for the umpteenth time. Over and over no matter how much of a bigshot you think they are, the directors complain that they have to compromise, and even Martin Scorsese observes he may still be working, but it's not necessarily his work, it's their work, they being the money men who bring him projects which may interest him. Investors are talked to as well, and it becomes clear from what they tell Alec 'n' James that budgets are either very low ($4-5million being the top end of those) or very high, depending on who they can get to star. And even then, a big name above the title is no guarantee: Jessica Chastain sees the story as king now.
And the story of Last Tango in Tikrit is not going to to cut it with these businessfolk. It does prompt the question, if Toback had contrived a genuinely decent idea for his movie, would this documentary have taken a different path, an exception to the rule they were trying to demonstrate? Aside from telling you what you could probably guess about the industry, though it's oddly satisfying to have it confirmed, Seduced and Abandoned doubled as an interesting insight into the minds of the interviewees. We don't spend a huge amount of time with them, but the conversational extracts are cannily chosen, from the older generation reminiscing about how they got their big breaks, to the younger going into detail on what making a film entails: Ryan Gosling goes from a weird anecdote about an Elvis Presley impersonating uncle inspiring him (straightfaced, so we have no idea if he's messing with us) to strong observations on the process of auditions and getting on set. Plus this being Toback, he asks everyone if they're ready to die. "Not yet", is the common answer.