The Kid Stays In The Picture

The Kid Stays In The Picture

Most people call it Hollywood, but for Robert Evans, the town has several other names: Heaven. Hell. Home. A one-time manufacturer and marketer of women's slacks, Evans briefly became a kind of male ingénue after his poolside discovery by Norma Shearer in the late '50s. After giving up on acting in movies, he decided to make them, riding a string of hits as a Paramount executive in the '60s and '70s: Love Story, Rosemary's Baby, and The Godfather were among them. From there, he became an independent producer (starting auspiciously with Chinatown), a drug-bust convict, the maker of The Cotton Club (a magnet for conflict and controversy), a burnout, a psychiatric patient, and a comeback candidate. Since the 1994 publication of his memoir, The Kid Stays In The Picture, Evans has found the career that may suit him best of all: raconteur. A living symbol of Hollywood's past, Evans tells stories brilliantly, albeit in a fashion that repeatedly promotes the unique and wonderful man called Robert Evans. Even when he's detailing his lowest moments, his stories contain a powerful whiff of self-aggrandizement. An escape from a mental institution, for instance, becomes a heartening triumph of moxie and determination over youth and physical superiority. Whether he recognizes it or not, Evans has become a brilliant character, a walking collection of yesterday's attitudes speaking in lingo and vocal cadences that went out with the Five Man Electrical Band. ("Planning's for the poor," goes one conventional bit of wisdom.) In this adaptation of Kid, the documentary team of Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen clearly understands that Evans' appeal runs deeper than the lists of films he's made and famous women he's bedded. There's a fascinating distance between the stories he tells and the forms in which he tells them, as a kind of hipster Horatio Alger with pharmaceutical cocaine and a busted marriage to Ali MacGraw. Evans has as distinctive an American voice as Mark Twain or Vin Scully, and the directors wisely let him do the talking. The voiceover comes directly from Evans' book, which Burstein and Morgen pair to an innovative 3D photo montage, interrupted by the occasional trip through Evans' house, plus bits of archival footage. He tells and they show, and sometimes the two accounts don't quite match, as when the present-day Evans takes an abundance of credit for films that the '70s-era Evans modestly defers to others. A direct echo of his own account, The Kid Stays In The Picture is almost undoubtedly the autobiographical movie Evans would have made himself. But as ego trips go, his is a brilliantly, if not always intentionally, revealing one, a journey through the brain of a man who found nothing peculiar about using emergency channels to enlist Henry Kissinger into The Godfather's promotional campaign.

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