Monday May 20th 2013
If you’re not already familiar with the man, the myth, the legend that is James ‘Jimmy’ Toback, take a quick look around the internet. The blogosphere is awash with tales of the 69-year-old Black and White director’s cack-handed attempts to pick up young (sometimes illegally so) women on the streets of New York, with such classic lines as “I will turn you into a worldwide phenomenon, just like I did with Mike Tyson”.
Choosing to embrace the exposure in a slightly creepy, Nick-Griffin-laughing-in-the-face-of-criticism-on-Question-Time way, Toback set about transforming himself into a sort of pervy folk antihero — a process that saw its culmination last night as his new film Seduced & Abandoned premiered out of competition in Cannes. The documentary sees Toback troll around the Cote d’Azur with longtime friend Alec Baldwin in tow, attempting to convince a succession of film financiers to invest in a godawful pseudo-remake of Last Tango In Paris the pair have cooked up.
The film’s inclusion here is no surprise: you haven’t witnessed true sycophancy until you’ve seen Seduced & Abandoned desperately try to flatter its way to a Cannes premiere over the course of 100 minutes. Toback and Baldwin wander endlessly up and down the Croisette swapping second-hand anecdotes about the place, pausing only occasionally to give Toback time to replenish the drool he expels every time a member of the opposite sex walks past. The festival’s artistic director Thierry Frémaux even appears in the film, rendering his decision to include it in this year’s program a little partisan.
The bulk of the film is built from interviews, most of them only a few minutes long and included here in their entireties. There’s no discernible through line in Toback’s choice of interviewees, and though they come from different areas of the film industry, he asks most of them the same handful of ill-thought-out questions. So while one minute you’re watching Martin Scorsese capably analyse shifting trends within the film industry, the next thing you know you’re sympathising with Bérénice Bejo as she hazards an answer to the same question. (Bejo’s interview is at least a good opportunity to see Toback do the awkward seat-shuffle he performs when resisting the urge to grope any and all women who come within his grasp.)
Seduced and Abandoned‘s basic thesis (if a film that seems to have been thrown together in a single coke-fuelled weekend can be said to have a thesis) is that studio heads and other ‘money guys’ (paging Zach Braff!) are no longer willing to take risks on projects that value artistry over profitability. That might be a valid argument if Toback’s Last Tango pitch had even a hint of promise to it, but as it stands you’re more like to come away relieved that skeezy old fucks like him and Baldwin can’t get their movies made any more.
On the other hand, if Toback and Baldwin set out to prove that nobody is making good movies any more, then this utterly inept piece of filmmaking (in which clips appear in the wrong aspect ratios, title cards are uniformly gaudy and incorrectly kerned, and the soundtrack is a cacophonous mess) should prove just the ticket.