The Kid Stays in the Picture, 2002.
Directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen.
Documentary about legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans (the film shares the same name as Evans’ famous 1994 autobiography).
Robert Evans was once the most revered man in Hollywood. Throughout the late 60s and most of the 70s, Evans’ role as producer on such hits as Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather and Chinatown made him the real star.
Or not – the truth is that, during Robert Evans’ stint as influential head of Paramount, the director reigned as king in Hollywood. But you’d not take that fact away from The Kid Stays in the Picture. Telling the story of Evans’ time as a Big Deal Producer, adapted from Evans’ book of the same name and narrated by Evans himself, Kid is out to glorify its man.
You’d think Robert Evans was the producer by which they’re all measured, a man more powerful than even Francis Ford Coppola. The film may be perpetuating a myth, but it’s an entertaining one, especially with the wry, no-bullshit Evans ever-present in voiceover. It’s easy to understand why the man was once positioned in front of the camera – Evans has such a commanding presence that he almost makes you care when he talks of losing his giant LA mansion to debt.
Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen’s doc is mostly a collage of still images and archive images, along with what feel like gratuitous tracking shots through Evans’ opulent castle, like a guided tour of a house the rest of us can’t possibly afford. The doc feels oddly lo-fi (those tracking shots aside, Kid could’ve been made entirely in an editing room), at odds with the glitzy subject matter. It could be that the film doesn’t require the added glamour, with the priceless anecdotes providing more than enough intrigue.
Ignoring Evans’ questionable choice of work post-drugs downfall (forget The Godfather, Evans is the man that brought you The Saint and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days), the focus here is his – and Hollywood’s – golden period. So he takes Paramount from being a nothing studio on the cusp of folding in the late 60s to being one of the safest, most awards-laden production houses of the 70s, via some of the greatest movies of that, and any, era.
Regrettably, the stories behind some of those big movies backed by Evans are skimmed over (The Italian Job, Harold and Maude and Serpico get no attention here), only for his rivalries and controversies to get the main focus. Roman Polanski being chewed out is a particular highlight (“Listen to me carefully, Roman…pick up the fucking pace or we’ll both end up back in Warsaw”). Besides, what would you rather hear about: True Grit or a cocaine scandal?
Evans’ compelling big talk becomes distractingly flowery when ex-wife Ali MacGraw comes into the frame. The film also often feels like a taster for Evans’ book, with some intriguing tales reduced to footnote – Evans’ conflict with Coppola on The Godfather set, for example –and supporting ‘characters’ in Evans’ life don’t get the full fleshing out they deserve. When Evans is fired and subsequently disowned by his former mentor, the desired emotional impact doesn’t come.
Robert Evans is a larger-than-life Hollywood personality with a palpable love for movies, something rare in that town nowadays (at least if Steven Soderbergh is to be believed). His passion and class elevate The Kid Stays in the Picture, a simple little pleasure (more-so for movie buffs who recognise Evans as the big shot he knows he once was), if only a bite-sized morsel rather than the full nourishing tale. Bonus points go to Evans for agreeing to narrate his own story and then telling it with such impressive gusto, even the parts he’d probably rather forget.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Brogan Morris – Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.