The buzzing environs of the Television Critics Association (TCA) conference on Thursday provided an eerie and apt setting for filmmaker James Toback to proclaim an epitaph for the moviegoing experience as we knew it: “We’re kidding ourselves if we think theatrical movies are part of the future,” he said. “Home entertainment will obliterate theatrical entertainment.”
Toback (“The Pick-Up Artist”) was at TCA to promote his documentary “Seduced and Abandoned,” which is a valentine of sorts to film industry die-hards, set at the Cannes Film Festival where it also premiered in May. But he couldn’t resist pointing out the seeming absurdity in today’s environment of traditional movie-houses as a delivery model. “Imagine if someone came up with that idea today,” he posited. “We’re going to build a place that you have to go out to and pay to get there and pay to get in, at a time you may not like, to sit and watch something with a bunch of strangers you probably wouldn’t want to have lunch with. Nobody on earth would invest in that,” he said. “It only exists now because of a nostalgic desire to keep it alive. For the younger generation, it’s becoming quaint and outdated.”
At the same time, Toback rejected the notion of going after film financing through the latest digital options, such as Kickstarter. “I’d always prefer to get money from someone I can see, and whose lapels I can grab, and who I can beat up on if they back out,” he declared.
In “Seduced and Abandoned,” Toback partners with actor Alec Baldwin on a quest to raise money at Cannes for a separate movie, which they describe as a kind of gutsy sex drama set during the Iraq War, and refer to as “Last Tango In Tikrit.” It’s never quite clear if they are serious about the secondary project – but the quest leads them to sit-downs with numerous well-known film financiers, as well as to an exploration of what inspires filmmakers to persist, involving time on camera with film giants like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Bernardo Bertolluci and Roman Polanski.
HBO picked up the movie ahead of its Cannes premiere, and plans to premiere it Oct. 28. Toback, joined via satellite by Baldwin, presented the project during HBO’s three-hour TCA presentation Thursday afternoon. Given that the movie will appear on cable tv, and the contrast between the dismal performance this summer for studio releases compared to the vibrant creative climate for cable programs, the platform for his glum prognostications about the future of theatrical film seemed apt.
Even so, Toback proclaimed himself unable to quit the film medium, comparing it to “a lover who you keep coming back to no matter how many times you’re rejected and disappointed, because the joy when you do have (what you have together) is so profound and memorable.”
Also taking the stage were filmmaker Spike Lee and former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson (coincidentally, Tyson was the subject of a documentary made by Toback and released in 2008).
This time around, it’s Lee who’s filmed Tyson in the one man stage-show he performed in Broadway and Las Vegas. The project, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” premieres on HBO later this fall.
Tyson, who appeared in a white suit similar to the one he wears in the stage show, worked with a speech coach to perform the play, based on a script written by his wife Kiki. He described the anxiety and nerves generated by doing a live stage performance as similar to a prizefight. “When I fight, I can’t wait to get my hands on the guy, just like I can’t wait to get on the stage. “The non-similarity,” he said, referring to a stage show, “is that I don’t’ have to go to the hospital after I perform.”
Comedian and actor-writer Larry David got big laughs when he spoke after presenting clips from “Clear History,” the HBO movie he made as a kind of creative hiatus from his series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” David pretended to be astounded when he correctly guessed the first name of TV journalist Alan Sepinwall, who had just lobbed him a question (Sepinwall said afterward that though he had interviewed David in the past, he couldn’t imagine that his name had stuck with him). Much mirth also attended the movie, which looks to be David’s brand of absurdism and uproarious social discomfort at its best. Director Greg Mottola said at TCA that it was entirely improvised from a 35-page scene outline by a cast that includes David, Jon Hamm, Bill Hader, Kate Hudson, Danny McBride, J.B. Smoove, Philip Baker Hall, Eva Mendes and Amy Ryan. HBO premieres the movie August 10.