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The Kid Stays In The Picture (R)
Highway Films and Ministry of Propaganda
Offical Site
Director: Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen
Producers: Nanette Burstein and Graydon Carter
Written by: Brett Morgen; based on The Kid Stays In The Picture by Robert Evans
Cast: Robert Evans


Be forewarned. I didn’t really want to see this movie. A documentary based on the autobiography of Robert Evans, movie producer? The perfect summer diversion: a sycophantic accolade for a Hollywood schlockmeister looking to cement his “place in film history.” The gushing tributes, the fawning clips, the ego that ate Los Angeles! No thank you.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed The Kid Stays in the Picture more than any theatrical release I’ve seen recently (yes, that includes Minority Report). As for my fears of Tinseltown egotism run amok, just visit the film’s website and see for yourself. On the site promoting his life story, there is Robert Evans… as a cartoon. His tiny body barely supports his oversized bobble-head. If you click on his image, he recites pithy lines from his memoirs, with one animated eyebrow pointedly raised, just for you.

You have probably already seen at least one, and probably more, of Evans’ movies. He specializes in updating and revitalizing familiar genres. Evans contributed to or is outright credited with producing The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (gangster films), Chinatown (detective stories), Love Story and Harold And Maude (romances), The Odd Couple (comedy), Rosemary’s Baby (horror), and Marathon Man (thriller), among many others. Even his bombs are famous— The Cotton Club, Sliver, Jade. This is the man who says he ordered b to re-edit The Godfather until it became, for better or worse, a classic.

Not that Evans is humble! He is as self-absorbed as any other obnoxious cigar-chomping head honcho—in fact, he is a shameless vamp. This charmer wants to seduce his audience with yet another tale of the rise, fall, and redemption of a troubled Hollywood genius. Can he really ask us to weep, yet again, for one more misunderstood mogul with a coke habit? Being fascinated with yourself is no guarantee that you can fascinate anyone else.

At first Burstein and Morgan seem to adapt Evans’ book all too well. Their documentary never directly questions any aspect of his self-presentation. But this is no kiss-ass vanity project. Kid does not reverence, but continuously ribs, the macho movie megalomania made famous by Selznick, Coppola, Herzog, Cimino, Lucas, and Spielberg . Evans doesn’t seem to mind this one bit. What sets him apart is his sense of humor and playful flexibility. He has an ego, but he is adaptable. Luckily, he also has an action-packed life that reads like a juicy movie script.

Evans was fated to be absorbed into Hollywood myth through Hollywood myth, and he encounters a series of amazing coincidences during his career as the boundaries between life and film became increasingly blurred. Did the man dream the movies or did the movies dream the man? Evans began his film career as an actor, but the first role he played onscreen was what he would eventually became off-screen years later—a producer, his role based on real-life producer, Irving Thalberg . Evans was discovered by Thalberg’s wife, famous ’30s film star Norma Shearer . She also happened show him the dream house that ultimately became his permanent home. The previous resident? Greta Garbo .

Not all these coincidences were good news. Evans’ career derailed when Ernest Hemingway balked at casting him as the matador in The Sun Also Rises. Evans, oiled and bronzed, looked like a deluxe version of George Hamilton and Hemingway had other fantasies of what makes a man a man. Producer Daryl Zanuck defied Hemingway to rescue Evans’ part, reportedly uttering the line that gives this movie its name, but Evans’ career was doomed. Defunct as an actor, he decided to become Darryl Zanuck. Evans wanted to be a producer because he wanted control. “I realized that I had to own something nobody else could get. If you own the property, you’re king.” Thus began his transformation from bullshit bullfighter to bullshitter extraordinaire.

During the filming of Love Story he courted and married the film’s rising star, Ali Macgraw , paralleling the movie with his own love story. Evans watched as Macgraw tearfully shot the movie’s infamous tagline, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” “Those tears were for you, Evans,” she reportedly said. Better watch your lines! Evans, to his eternal regret, neglected Macgrawand lost her to Steve McQueen during the making of The Getaway. For Evans, love means perpetually having to say you’re sorry.

Kid also offers some hilarious, behind the scenes footage. After an arrest for cocaine possession in the ’80s did serious damage to his career, Evans made several sincere anti-drug specials for television, packed with A-list celebrities like Bob Hope and Carol Burnett , but also B- and C-list celebrities like Scott Baio and Herve Villechaize . Many of them look either hyper or glazed over, as if they were on drugs themselves. The show’s theme? “Get High on Yourself”! Hollywood classics be damned, this footage alone is worth the price of admission.

How can you not like a movie that features Evans detailing a traumatic episode from the late ’80s that left his life in shambles yet again, narrated over a montage of scary moments from his greatest hits: Hoffman being threatened with dental tool torture in Marathon Man is intercut with Pacino dodging an assassin’s bullet in The Godfather which is intercut with Nicholson getting his nose brutally slit open in Chinatown. The montage goes on and on to the point of riotous absurdity! Does Evans really believe he suffered as much as the characters in his films? This documentary never trivializes Evans’ pain, but it’s not afraid to strain the boundary between art and life just as much as Evans does, to great effect.

Kid is also a stylish pleasure to watch. Using photographs and old television footage, the filmmakers scroll, pan, zoom in and out, tint photos and split screens. They expertly play stock footage off against recent location shots. Jun Diaz’s fresh, clean editing ensures that the film never looks gimmicky. No film exists of Shearer’s poolside discovery of Evans. Instead, we see recent footage of a swimming pool. A three-dimensional cutout of a young Evans in a bathing suit, obviously sliced from a vintage photo, is hilariously superimposed upon it. This layering effect of placing two-dimensional images against filmed three-dimensional backgrounds perfectly sends up and celebrates Evans’ own conflation of movies and life, of being caught between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Isn’t this really where the audience lives too?

—Ellen Whittier


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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