The most entertaining picture to appear in theaters this year has finally arrived and it’s a documentary, of all things. Well, it’s a semi-documentary; a better description of “The Kid Stays in the Picture” would be an autobiography of producer Robert Evans as done by a couple other people, they being documentarians Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen.
Even though Burstein and Morgen get director’s credits, this film is none other than Robert Evans’ personal show. Based on Evans’ 1994 autobiography of the same name, which became wildly popular once it was released as a book-on-tape with Evans himself providing the reading in his famous “I’m the coolest man alive” snarl, “Kid” unabashedly tells the life story of the once studio exec and big-time producer as Evans saw it and remembers it.
While most documentaries try to hide their innate biases, Burstein and Morgen revel in Evans’ boasting, including a precautionary quote from the man himself before the picture begins, “There are three sides to every story. My side, your side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently.” That one man’s life could so imitate the ups and downs of the Hollywood movies he produced becomes the material for a most unique and enjoyable film.
Evans’ roller coaster ride through the entertainment industry begins with his being discovered in a Beverly Hills pool for a role opposite Jimmy Cagney. It is the perfect opening for any Hollywood dream, but Evans’ career as an actor doesn’t last long as he freely admits his own lack of talent.
However, an on-set acting experience becomes the inspiration for his career goal and the film’s title as well. Evans was cast in “The Sun also Rises,” but nobody, including star Ava Gardner and writer Ernest Hemingway, wanted him in the picture. Finally, producer and studio honcho Darryl Zanuck came to the set and after watching Evans perform a few takes, the short in stature, high in power Zanuck announced, “The kid stays in the picture.” Here was Evans’ role model.
After a few years as a producer, through the intersection of luck and hard work, Paramount pictures named Evans head of production, the youngest man to ever achieve such a position. Amidst widespread criticism of his hiring, Evans turned Paramount from 9th at the box office to number one in the late-’60s and early ’70s. He did this by taking chances on films no one else would touch and turning them into blockbusters and award winners, they include “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown,” “Love Story” and most prominently, “The Godfather.”
Evans calls the New York premiere of “The Godfather” his crowning moment, arriving with bombshell actress/girlfriend Ali McGraw on one arm and Henry Kissinger on the other. It wasn’t all downhill from there, but it never got that good again.
After a very public breakup in which McGraw left Evans for co-star Steve McQueen, a cocaine bust in the early ’80s severs all his contacts with the executives at Paramount and his name becomes further tarnished by a murder investigation that surrounded Evans’ production of Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club” even though Evans was never named as a suspect.
A stay in a mental hospital becomes Evans’ rock bottom and his brilliantly produced escape (the filmmakers use scenes from his films as an actor and producer to create a moment of intense fear and peril) starts his journey back to a place that’s not quite the top, but at least far from bottom.
Evans’ voice, borrowed from the book-on-tape, guides the viewer along the amusing, touching and always exhilarating ride. The filmmakers, using Evans’ extensive collection of photos, never allow for the interviews of others, it is Evans’ story and we want no distractions from that. Digital effects transform the static pictures, bringing out colors and pulling Evans’ body out of the photographs and to the forefront of the screen, with a background usually containing sparkling stars during the most luxurious and magnificent of Evans’ triumphs.
“The Kid Stays in the Picture” is unlike any documentary you have ever seen, and it is truly unlike any other film you have ever seen. Burstein and Morgen discovered an irresistible topic for their film, Evans lives a dreamlife most can only imagine and he is also an unequaled storyteller.
The movies, women, extravagant home and egg shaped pool all come together to form this man who can be described as no other way but over the top. In his pursuits of creating the best cinema for others to see, Evans leaded a life that includes all the elements of the best cinema.