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The movie racket is a dying business, and here’s why

It's coming on awards season. Time for the big promotional push for certain movies. Already, the debate is under way – are 12 Years a Slave and Philomena certain to be best-picture nominees for the Academy Awards? It's assumed that people pay good money to see these praised movies in a theatre.

Who the heck cares? The movie racket is totally a dying racket.

Seduced and Abandoned (tonight, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) is a weird trip into the movie racket. Officially described as a "cinematic romp," it's a documentary that follows director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin through the Cannes Film Festival in search of financing for their new movie. The movie is the unlikely sounding erotic thriller Last Tango in Tikrit, a version of Last Tango in Paris but set in Iraq during the U.S. invasion.

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The title of the doc is taken from Baldwin's observation, "The movie business is the worst lover you've ever had in the sense that you are seduced and abandoned over and over again." What unfolds in the doc is a series of funny, weird and sometimes deeply serious discussions with directors, stars and financiers about making a movie. The list of those encountered is formidable – Bernardo Bertolucci, James Caan, Neve Campbell, Graydon Carter, Jessica Chastain, Diablo Cody, Francis Ford Coppola, Ryan Gosling, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Diane Kruger, Mike Medavoy, Ron Meyer, Jean Pigozzi, Roman Polanski, Brett Ratner, Martin Scorsese and Taki Theodoracopulos.

There are lovely and illuminating moments. They chat with Bertolucci, who directed Last Tango in Paris. He has a few interesting things to say about Marlon Brando's performance and reveals that Brando wouldn't speak to him for five years after the movie was concluded. And he is rueful about what he calls his "megalomania" at certain Cannes festivals. Francis Ford Coppola says that Cannes has become "mean-spirited" because of the people it attracts.

The doc, which at times is a mockumentary, is rich in anecdotes and there are a few lessons about film financing to be learned. Everybody is, of course, talking about a theatrical movie. And that's what makes it both funny and sad.

Seduced and Abandoned made for a very interesting session at the TV Critics press tour in Los Angeles this past summer. Baldwin contributed by satellite but Toback was there in person. He wrote the classic The Gambler (1974) and directed, among other films, Fingers (1978) and The Pick-up Artist (1987). Asked by TV critics about the movie business today, he was blunt: "I think that we're really kidding ourselves if we think that theatrical movies are a part of the future."

And with that he spoke the truth, and something more relevant than anything in Seduced and Abandoned.

At greater length he explained his thinking. Speaking sarcastically, he talked about the clumsy retro thing that is the movie-going experience. "We build these theatres and you have to pay money to get to the theatre and they tell you what time you're going to see it, and you sit there in a pretty uncomfortable chair with a bunch of strangers, half of whom you wouldn't even want to have lunch with, and it's not particularly clean and you sit there and they tell you to leave as soon as it's over and then you pay to get home, and you pay the babysitter.

"How about that as competition for sitting at home and watching on a great screen with good sound, and you're not paying anything extra for it and you can stop when you want? We're talking about a technology that only still exists because it always has existed, and there's been a nostalgic desire to keep it alive."

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There's the rub. It's nostalgia that keeps the movie racket alive as it exists today. Cannes is irrelevant. The movie theatre is irrelevant. Sooner or later most of the bigwigs encountered in Seduced and Abandoned will be making television. Some are already doing it. The movie racket is dying. Long live the home screen experience.

Also airing tonight

The Blacklist (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.) is a solid hit on Mondays, with James Spader delightfully chewing the scenery as Raymond (Red) Reddington, the voluble former rogue agent now pitting wits against no-goodniks. Tonight his target is "a beautiful and deadly corporate terrorist named Gina." She is played by Margarita Levieva, known for her roles on Revenge and How To Make It in America, and alleged by some to have the best hair in the business.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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