Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Kid Stays In the Picture is a flashily-produced docu on the wild life and times of
big-time producer and studio head Robert Evans. He's still going strong on what must be his 3rd or
4th life, hard at work after being declared career-dead and extinct at least twice.
The first thing that strikes one about this docu is its onrushing cavalcade of graphic images.
This is no narrator-illustrated-by-pictures show. There
are no cuts to held images. Stills, clips, pages from Variety meld and dissolve and seque into each
other with a never-ending variety of visual transitions. While lush music plays in the background,
cut-out still images are animated against their own backgrounds. These were all done by editor Jun
Diaz - the entire movie is a complicated After Effects composite.
Robert Evans narrates the show himself, in an 'I was there, baby' hipster monologue that lets us
know that what we're seeing is his version of his life. As co-producer/director
Brett Morgen tells us in his commentary, this isn't even trying to be objective.
Evans' life is pretty wild and entertaining. He started as a failed actor and then somehow was
given the opportunity to run a studio. His freewheeling style and gambling instinct won him the
loyalty of top talent. He imported Roman Polanski to Hollywood, smashed the boxoffice
with Love Story and The Godfather, outmaneuvered players large and small and
enlisted talents like Francis Coppola when he needed them. He also had a powerful knack of
repeatedly pulling himself out of the fire - always at the edge of being fired by Paramount's
corporate parent Gulf+Western, he dodged bullets, defused bombs and found a way around every obstacle.
The film alludes to his love life rather satisfyingly. Evans is in control here, so we don't get
a vision of the 24-7 jackrabbit playboy that others have suggested was the truth, but we're treated
to big helpings of self-analysis over his starstruck marriage to Ali MacGraw, and his dismay when
she ran off with Steve McQueen a couple of years later. There are huge chunks of material here that
other participants (like Ali, for certain) might tell entirely differently. We also don't get
the full story of the production chief's life in political circles. It seems studio production
heads have always had inside access to Washington, which is kind of scary.
Of course, Evans characterizes even his failures as his own doing. In his view, Ali didn't run to
McQueen to escape him, Robert made it happen by not staying in closer contact with her.
Evans' unlimited ego comes through in his tone of absolute self-assurance. He's great fun to
listen to (how many times do we hear a bona-fide showbiz mover in confessional mode?), but the
viewer needs to keep his bullshit radar in tune.
Evans did enough interesting films, and some great ones, to justify most of his bragging. His
Horatio Alger vision of being the big man pulling the strings is the kind of ambition that makes
big things happen, and by and large he did more harm than good with his entertainments. Followers
of Hollywood gossip will be enthralled by his subsequent disasters, starting with the drug bust that
blows his relationship with the Gulf+Western biggies back East. By the time The Cotton Club
came around, just an association with scandal (a potential murder among the backers of the film) was
enough to makes him even more of a pariah.
At the end, we see Evans hard at work making yet another comeback. Since then, he seems to be doing
fine, at age 72 and with health problems. We don't like Robert Evans very much, as he's
the kind of guy who prevails through flash, mirrors and sheer nerve. But he knows his business
and has certainly had a dazzling tabloid life. The Kid Stays In the Picture is highly
entertaining, and is a great conversation-starter among Hollywood buffs.
Warners' DVD of The Kid Stays In the Picture is presented in fine enhanced dimensions, with
Jun Diaz' unending seamless montage of beautifully-retouched graphics coming through brilliantly.
DVD docu makers will immediately be envious. The sound is sharp and cleverly mixed.
The extras are a real hoot, and many viewers will want to run to them first. The Truth According
to Bob is just OK. It has two uncut speeches by Evans, one of which is the sales pitch he
brought to his big Gulf+Western show & tell, in a desperate bid to keep control of the studio. Why
did it work? Because on film, he comes off as a more of a bland, concerned corporate fuddy-duddy
than any of the suits in New York.
The Truth According to Others is much more interesting. The Showgirls shows five
ex-showgirls on a talk show basically bragging about 'dating' the swinging producer. On the
Carpet is a long series of testimonies at the Kid premiere by celebrities in Evans'
life, like Peter Bart. Typical of the input is Darryl Zanuck Jr., who starts his
monologue by rushing to assert that he was the one who gave Evans his first Hollywood job.
Evans Gag Reel is the highlight, a fall-down funny collection of gag reels of Dustin Hoffman
lampooning Evans on the set of Marathon Man and elsewhere. Some of the 'fake outtakes' are
inspired comic skits, and Hoffman schtick includes a series of hilariously obscene jokes. This is
what you'll be setting aside to show friends as a special treat.
Also accessed through this menu is a commentary with Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen. They divide
the film into halves so each can say their say, and are very free with their opinions. Morgen's opening
position speech about the impossibility of making a truly objective documentary is a refreshing
slice of wisdom: Audiences still take everything they hear and see in the media as either omniscient
truth or calculated lies. Morgen's vision is clear - everything we hear and see has to come
from somebody's subjective point of view. Unless it's the Zapruder film, it's opinion ... and look
how 'interpretable' the Zapruder film became.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Kid Stays In the Picture rates:
Supplements: Various clips: The Truth According to Bob (filmed Evans Speeches),
The Truth According to Others : The Showgirls, Evans Gag reel,
On the Carpet (see above)
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: August 21, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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