Last year at the Cannes Film Festival, Alec Baldwin and director James Toback ran around for 11 days making a movie about two guys (themselves; it’s a documentary) scrambling to line up financing for a different movie, a sex-soaked tale of a right-wing government operative trysting with a left-wing journalist in a hotel room in Iraq.
They pitched it, over and over, to various potential backers, as “Last Tango in Tikrit.”
So far that movie, which may one day star Baldwin, remains a thing of pitch meetings, fairy dust and maybe-next-year. This year, however, Baldwin and Toback are back in Cannes with the documentary they made about the movie they haven’t made yet. “Seduced and Abandoned” screens out of competition this week during the 66th festival.
The official Cannes festival program describes Toback’s film as an “exploration” of “several interconnected subjects”: the festival and “cinema art, money, glamour and death.” Toback and Baldwin grab interview time with some world-class directors (Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola) and a passel of actors, notably the It Man, the Abs of the Moment, Ryan Gosling, who recounts in “Seduced and Abandoned” what life was like as a struggling LA performer.
“Would you like some fruit?” says Baldwin, sitting on the side terrace of the grand old Carlton Hotel on the Croisette, the main drag, a few blocks east of the Palais des Festivals, where most of the action in Cannes is concentrated. I say no, thank you, though like every plate of fruit I’ve seen during the festival this one looks impossibly nummy. But I’ve just downed one of the stronger cups of espresso of my life and I’m having trouble holding my pen.
There’s a scene in “Seduced and Abandoned” where Baldwin and Toback board the private yacht of controversial Greek writer Taki Theodoracopulos. They seek financing for their sexy clash-of-ideologues romance. The meal of which they partake on the yacht looks scrumptious.
"Every time I see that scene in the movie,” Toback says with a sigh, “I’m nostalgic for that day.” Baldwin jumps in: “You’re sitting there with Taki on his yacht, and you think: ‘I would sanction the immoral invasion of oil-rich countries to enrich myself, if this is what it led to. To be this man, on a ship, with his staff, smoking, drinking fine wine, the boat gently lolling. So what if a few generations of Middle Eastern people have to be subjugated to poverty and terror? It’s worth it.” Toback’s cracking up; Baldwin’s on a roll.
In “Seduced and Abandoned” Bertolucci speaks lovingly of filmmaking as “an ocean of pleasure.” Baldwin admits he failed to take much pleasure in his own career during its first couple of decades. “I don’t want to say it’s warfare, exactly, but...for example. I don’t know him well, but whenever I’m around Steven Spielberg” — he’s heading the main competition jury at this year’s festival — “he never ceases to amaze me. He’s having a wonderful time. He’s happy. There’s no base line of tension within him. Most people in this business, they don’t have enough of what they want, or they’re worried about losing some of what they’ve accrued.”
Baldwin is the king of all media: He serves as the voice of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on National Public Radio; he runs a podcast on WNYC radio; he was Robert Osborne’s co-host on “The Essentials” on Turner Classic Movies prior to Drew Barrymore; he tweets like a fiend; and for several years he rode the wave of a little TV show called “30 Rock.” Now he’s eager to re-establish himself as a viable, bankable movie commodity. “Seduced and Abandoned” deals with that quest, in addition to everything else.
Talking to Gosling for the movie, Baldwin tells me, made him realize “how much savvier the new generation of actors is about the business and the media. They know how to keep the media at a certain distance. Gosling knows you throw the press a little chunk of meat every now and then, and that’s it. Better to keep your political opinions to yourself, and keep the canvas rather bland and diffuse, so that the public can project onto it whatever they want.” Baldwin shakes his head, smiling, knowing he has done it all somewhat differently. And with that, hands are shook, fruit plates are disappeared, and Baldwin and Toback share another laugh about how distant those 11 blurry days of filming seem a year later.
"Seduced and Abandoned” is scheduled for a fall premiere on HBO.
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