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: