Seduced and Abandoned (2013)
Written and Directed by James Toback
The title of this review contains one of the greatest puns I’ve ever made in my entire life. (To get it, you have to be aware of the song ‘You Are Worthless, Alec Baldwin’, which plays at the very end of the credits of Team America: World Police.) What makes my pun so great and so apt is that this documentary, Seduced and Abandoned, is literally about Alec Baldwin thinking he’s worth a lot more money than he is actually worth, and constantly being reminded by various knowledgable people that he isn’t, and him not understanding. That’s the majority of this movie, which might make it sound like the greatest movie ever made, but unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s downright grating in its unrelenting narcissism. There are parts where you’ll damn near groan your throat off, and eye roll your eyes off. But you should still watch it. It may not be a good film, but it sure as hell is an important one.
Now is an extraordinarily interesting time for cinema. I’ve said that many times before on this site, and I’ll say it many more. And you’ve probably heard countless other filmmakers and critics and whatnot say it as well. If you’re sick of hearing it, if you’re feeling all ‘yeah yeah, everyone’s saying it’s great, but I don’t see it’, trust me, I feel you. But I need you to understand—if you’re looking for battles, if you’re looking for bombast, you’re looking for the wrong kind of extraordinarily-interestingness. This is not a ‘hot’ war, so to speak. This is a cold war. A war of stubbornness, of slow suspense, of stalemate. And that’s every bit as gripping, if you know where to look. This film is a good start.
Seduced and Abandoned gives Freedom Fighters like myself (those who welcome the democratization of filmmaking with wide open arms, and take full advantage of what it has to offer) a rare peek behind the front lines of The Opposition—the lumbering, bumbling beast that is Hollywood. And it’s quite clear from this glimpse that there’s Dr. Strangelove-esque incompetency occurring within said bureaucracy. No surprise there of course, but the exact nature of the myopia of these fat cats did take me be surprise.
Alec Baldwin and producer/filmmaker James Toback (the guy Tom Cruise was poking fun at in Tropic Thunder as Les Grossman) make it clear in this film that they believe the problem with cinema right now is skittish producers and financiers who refuse to take risks and will only fund movies they are damn sure will be profitable. They believe this because they can’t seem to find anyone to give them twenty million dollars to make a Last Tango in Paris ripoff vanity project starring Alec Baldwin and Neve Campbell, set in an arbitrarily expensive and exotic location, with the ever-inconsistent James Toback directing. The most they can find someone to give is about five million dollars, and that would hinge upon them finding a more marketable female lead and a cheaper exotic location. But that’s not good enough for them. That’s daggers in their gut of their artistic vision. And so, they spend a good deal of the film pontificating pessimistically about death, and the death of ‘the industry’ as they once knew it (people with lots of money giving famous people way more money than they’re worth, and spending way more to make a movies than anyone in their right mind should).
Do you have any idea how many films I could make for five million dollars? I could shoot a film a year for the next fifty years. $100,000 is more than enough to make a film. Maybe not a huge, silly film, but who wants to do that? Hollywood has that covered. The point is, I can tell a small, heartfelt, interesting story for that much. Much, much less even, but $100,000 would be a budget where I could actually breathe easy and not be running around doing everything. My last two films, Shredder and Rehearsals, were made for $3,000 and $100, respectively. And no, they don’t look like the kinda movies Jack Black and Mos Def’s characters were making in Be Kind Rewind. They look great. This is because the dope shit as far as equipment goes has gotten so goddamn cheap in the last few years it’s insane.
I throw this quote out all the time, but whatever, it needs to be said as often as possible: “Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” Jean Cocteau said that. Dude was a goddamn genius, but I don’t think he ever anticipated how close we would come. He was an artist, not a futurist, so his statement is less a prediction of what’s on the horizon technologically and more just a statement about the fact that films aren’t pure artistic expressions—there’s too much money and people involved in the production of them for that to be the case. In contrast, simple, inexpensive materials means the freedom to do whatever you want, which means individuality, which means art.
Don’t get me wrong—all films are art—even highly collaborative, humongously-budgeted affairs. Doesn’t matter what the process is, the result is still art. I’m just saying that until very recently, filmmaking hasn’t been able to be a pure and simple art form. Sure, there have been countless mavericks along the way who have been able to make highly personal films for as long as film has existed. But the playing field has never been leveled like it is now. Right now, with just a few clicks, anyone with a couple thousand dollars can buy all the equipment they need to make a whole mess of feature-length films, with no corners cut. For a long time, corners would have to be cut. You’d have to shoot on an unprofessional-looking format, use an unprofessional looking camera and lens, etcetera. Such is no longer the case. The world of cinema is your oyster.
All this to say, fuck Baldwin and Toback. If they really gave a shit about film, they’d be fucking around with a T2i or a GH2 or a BlackMagic Pocket or whatever, experimenting with what kinda light and colors these cameras like. They’d be scouring eBay for cheap Nikkor prime lenses. They’d be making small films, ones free from any and all unnecessary expenses. Instead, they’re sitting around bitching and moaning about no longer being able to trick people with vast amounts of money into writing them fat, stupid checks. It’s spoiled, adolescent behavior—which is ironic, because right now, tons of actual young people all over the world are honing their cinematic eye and teaching themselves equipment and being responsible and diligent and, above all else, being positive as fuck. Not sweating the fact that the industry has no interest in who we are or what we are doing, even though we’re the most cost-effective, frugal motherfuckers they’ll ever meet, and as such, would get along great with their newfound attitude towards funding projects. They’ll notice us eventually, and when they do, we’ll have entire filmographies under our belts.
Goddamn beautiful time right now.
0 out of 5 Codys.