October 27, 2013
James Toback is a very intelligent screenwriter and director who discovered Harvey Keitel and also turned Mike Tyson into an actor of sorts, mostly playing Tyson. Toback relishes pushing people’s buttons and has a devilish radar for psychodrama”all of which comes into play in his latest movie, the riotous Seduced and Abandoned, a fly-on-the-wall depiction on how to get”or not get”a movie financed during the Cannes Film Festival. It’s also a backhanded homage to Orson Welles, a man Jimmy Toback is starting to resemble in girth, who famously declared that 95 percent of his time making movies was spent trying to get financing for them.
Oh, I almost forgot”yours truly is also in the picture, playing myself on my boat. I”m visited by Toback and Alec Baldwin (playing themselves), who solicit me for funds during a very liquid lunch onboard Bushido. They pitch their project, which they present as a remake of Last Tango in Paris but this time based in Iraq and renamed Last Tango in Baghdad. Toback and Baldwin make the Cannes rounds visiting the rich and famous looking for financial backing and prospective stardom for those willing to play and play. The pros, the men and women who do this type of lending for a living, are not impressed. One horrible type asks rather incredulously, “Last Tango in Baghdad? Who’s the jerk who thought that one up?” Others, such as the financier Arki Busson”a childhood friend of mine”remain unimpressed while lounging in their hundred-million-dollar seaside villas.
This is where the fun is. Jimmy and Alec show scenes of Marlon Brando in one of the filthiest scenes with Maria Schneider in the Paris tango movie. Just think of this: With bombs falling and Alec buttering up Neve Campbell while she has her fingers you-know-where, this scene is one of the main pitches to investors. Some cringe, others look at their shoes”bare feet rather, this is the Riviera”while the pros simply say, “It’s not worth twenty million; I”ll give you five.”
Then comes the serious part, which has earned the movie-within-a-movie rave reviews by every newspaper and magazine that has reviewed it”more than 35 as of this writing. Even the gray old bag of The New York Times called it splendid and a Toback triumph. I”m talking about the section of the film when the intrepid pair interviews Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Francis Coppola. These serious artists are actually marvelous because they speak about the movies in general and their own in particular in a manner they have not before because there are no public-relations creeps around nor journalists, so the four geniuses let it rip.
I attended the premiere in Cannes. I did not blink while I was on the screen, hence I saw myself and heard the cheers after it was all over, most of them coming from pros in the moviemaking business.
One of my closest friends in the world, producer Michael Mailer, stuck my name on the opening credits, which is the only embarrassing thing about the film. He even had me walk the red carpet like a star”no, I did not use a wheelchair but made the steps up into the Festival Hall on my own, so there”and at the party following the premiere two famous agents approached and asked me if I was starting a new career at 77. (Mikey had put them up to it.)
So there you have it: a movie within a movie, with the professionals in the know, others taking Jimmy and Alec seriously and offering serious money for Last Tango in Baghdad. It is also a tribute to the Cannes Film Festival, which has launched countless hits. I used to regularly attend when I was a very horny young man making my way around the Riviera flesh spots armed only with a Jaguar convertible, a tennis racket, and absolutely not a penny in my pocket. Returning after all those years was bittersweet. I had the yacht and the connections, but what was missing is the most important thing in the world: youth.
Seduced and Abandoned“which is what always happens when trying to put a movie together”is opening for one week in certain art theaters and then will regularly show on HBO, which bought it with alacrity and has big plans for it. Watch it and you will get an A-to-Z look on how a film is made. And make sure you don”t go out for popcorn and miss yours truly. In fact, don”t even look down at the bag.