on July 6, 2004
Hollywood is a place of fantasy, a composite of all our American dreams. Sure, I read Schulberg's, What Makes Sammy Run. That one covered the first golden age of American Film. The second golden age happened because a young Jewish businessman from New York ran into silent film legend Norma Shearer at a Beverley Hills hotel, and then was propelled into acting. He played the Spanish matador in The Sun Also Rises, a film based on Ernest Hemingway's book. This led to a minor film career that went poof in the fifties, so the young man bought rights to a few novels for peanuts: you know, The Godfather, Love Story, Marathon Man, and Serpico. The next thing he knew, he was running Paramount Pictures and dating every beautiful woman in California. He also discovered cocaine in the 80's and at the same time, a distant association with a murdered producer tarnished his image, so that he couldn't work in this town again. Then he got his job back and made more pictures. This all happened to Robert Evans. The 1994 documentary is really a home movie with Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson, ex-wife, Allie McGraw, and a supporting cast of thousands. I wonder what he's doing now?
on February 18, 2004
Robert Evans, if nothing else besides his impressive list of film credits, deserves recognition for being a survivor. His narration of The Kid Stays In The Picture, based on his own autobiography, is a very well-constructed piece of first-person history.
Although the book is substantially better simply because it contains more in the way of details and gossip, the film makes great use of Evans's personal effects and archives to create a seamless timeline of his rise, fall, and subsequent rebirth. The man has to be admired for the sheer drive and force of his personality that he was able to sustain even though he himself admits that in many instances he has acted very stupidly.
The best parts, of course, center around his ascension to the top of the Paramount food chain at a time when everyone thought it was suicide for the company to put him at its head. His descriptions of what was going through his mind at that point of time is illuminating. He is also just old enough to have touched both the "golden age" of Hollywood and the modern era, which makes him somewhat unique.
I would highly recommend seeking out the book if you enjoy this film as it will only serve to supplement the juicy details here. With the release of the film, Evans has gone back and added a postscript that is both poignant and inspiring, if that word can be used for such an individual.
on February 6, 2004
There was a time, still basking in the innocence of childhood, when I tended to see film stars as possessing a perfection that we mortals lacked. But that was also a time when we didn't know much about the stars other than what was on the screen. Movie fans had to rely on the puff pieces in Photoplay that had more in common with press agentry than journalism.
Now, in an age when celebrities are covered around the clock by a "news" media desperate to hang on to a dwindling audience, every rock is upturned and the snakes beneath them are crawling out, hissing uncontrollably as we watch in horror. When I think of Hollywood now, I remember the scene in "The Shining" when Jack Nicholson enters a bathroom to see a stunningly beautiful woman emerge from the tub. He embraces her only to be shocked that the woman is actually a withered old hag, and a dead one at that.
The movies are make-believe, but more and more it looks like the people who make them are make-believe, too. The starstruck audience has let withered old hags, dead in all but the literal sense, con us into believing they are great beauties. The biggest star and the devoted fan seem to be kindred spirits, both of them living vicariously through a carefully constructed image to give meaning to an otherwise empty life.
Robert Evans seems like a combination of both the star and the starstruck fan. Never a "star" in the traditional sense, Evans toiled behind-the-scenes, but like a ventriloquist who's jealous that the dummy gets all the laughs, he could never keep his permanently tanned mug out of the spotlight. On the surface, this fallen Hollywood kingpin's life looks like one to envy, but it's all so lacking substance that it might as well be the gateway to hell. Evans strikes me as the epitome of the man who had everything that money can buy, but desperately needed more to fill a void that only seemed to grow with success. I find his story, as told in this one-sided documentary, more depressing than entertaining, although I admit it's the latter, as well.
If everything you know about the period covered in this film comes from Evans, you'd wonder why the Hollywood sign hasn't been replaced with a statue in his image. Inexplicably chosen to head Paramount Pictures in the late Sixties, after bombing out as an actor in "The Sun Also Rises" and such drek as "The Fiend Who Walked the West," he takes credit for saving the studio with box-office hits like "Love Story" and "The Godfather." No doubt Evans played a role in the studio's resurgance, but he takes more credit than he seems to deserve, claiming he convinced Francis Ford Coppola to add "texture" to the gangster movie that Evans insists the director saw as little more than a shoot-em-up B movie. But if Coppola thought so little of "The Godfather" and its potential, why would he work so hard to cast Marlon Brando against Paramount's objections at a time when Brando's reputation as the world's greatest actor meant nothing next to the string of bombs he starred in throughout the Sixites?
For that matter, can Evans rightfully claim he "produced" any of the films made under his reign as Paramount's top gun? The producer's credit for "The Godfather" went to Al Ruddy, who accepted the Oscar when the film was named Best Picture. In his book, Evans claims Ruddy was merely "appointed," but it's hard to imagine a man of Evans's monumental ego not seizing credit especially if it rightfully belonged to him. As for the other hits that saved the magic mountain, "Rosemary's Baby" was produced by William Castle, "The Odd Couple" was produced by Howard Koch, "Love Story" was produced by Howard Minsky, and on and on and on with Evans never earning an on-screen credit for anything until "Chinatown."
But Evans wasn't content to be the head of a studio with the power to greenlight a project. He wanted to be a star! Hence his weird biography (in which every conversation sounds like it came from a 30's gangster movie) and this so-called documentary.
This "documentary," like the book it's based on, is fascinating for all the wrong reasons. It's meant to be some kind of tribute to Evans and his success, but it simply exposes him as the vainest of empty shells. The Kid stays in the picture all right, but only by vandalizing the true portrait with ego, half-truths, and lies.
on January 3, 2004
The casual viewer of the life of Bob Evans, a man who spent most of his working life as a successful Paramount Pictures executive and creative producer would say that he was the kind of man who could accidentally fall into a cesspool and emerge with two fistfuls of cash.
That casual observer would be correct. Evans was born connected, good looking and charismatic. What the casual observer might not know, however, is that Evans is also visionary, intelligent, hard working and committed. His sharp dress and looks belie his New York City vulgar idiom, something that shaped his overall persona.
This beautifully realized memoir is a must- see for any Hollywood aficionado. Evans narrates it in a natural, unaffected way, one can imagine, the way he would tell you across an intimate dinner table, making you wince and chuckle along the way. His few miscalculations in life, notably marrying a working female actor (something we are warned not to do) and getting into the drug scene, albeit briefly, when it was in vogue and thus falling prey to the voracious media monster, can easily be forgiven. The man, after all, gave us much more than we could possibly have given back to him, many years of top-flight entertainment. We leave this Kid in his picture saluting him and wishing him well, especially those of us who are ebb-tide filmmakers some miles outside of the inner circle. He lived the life we could only have dreamed.
on November 18, 2003
The Kid Stays in the Picture is a glitzy peek into Hollywood in the 70's as seen through the eyes of one of its prime movers: Robert Evans. You may not have heard the name Robert Evans, but you've definitely seen movies he's produced: Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather and Chinatown are just the tip of the iceberg as far as his career goes.
The documentary has a unique, but somewhat flawed, style. The directors put up many of Mr. Evans' personal photographs (enhanced with 3D effects), TV and movie footage and have Evans himself narrate the entire movie (his narration is taken from book-on-tape version of his biography). The period of his life covered from his discovery in a Beverly Hills swimming pool to his meteoric rise to fame to becoming persona non grata in Hollywood and back to acceptance in Tinseltown. Evans' cool self-assesment provides a facinating look into one of the most volatile and creative decades in Hollywood history. The only problem is that because Evans is the only person narrarating, the perspective, although very interesting, is somewhat limited. Evans himself does not bore for a second in the film though. His warbly barritone is almost hypnotic.
I caught this movie by accident on HBO one afternoon, and I was thoroughly pleased with what I saw. It was more compelling than most documentaries that are out on the market. I would recommend it to those who want to learn about fame and the movie industry in America.
on October 23, 2003
We saw the San Francisco premiere of "The Kid Stays in the Picture." Robert Evans showed up to introduce the movie and answer questions afterwards. It was a great juxtaposition: the young lion Evans on screen vs. the Evans in the flesh who had a serious stroke a couple of years back. Its obvious that he's fought a tough road to recovery.
It was also obvious that the release of 'Kid' was an important milestone for him. As the film shows, Evans has been a battler all his life, so why stop now? It's this atttitude that has brought him a whole new generation of fans.
The movie is like nothing you've ever seen before. When Evans' book was released in the early 90s, the print edition had no real impact. The audio edition, however, was a sensation. Narrated by Evans himself in his unmistakable gravelly baritone, the tapes became a cult sensation, passed around Hollywood like a forbidden, guilty pleasure.
The film simply takes those original recordings and uses them as the soundtrack. The majority of the images are compiled, amazingly enough, from photos of Evans' career, enhanced through some eye-popping innovation: somehow, the filmmakers have turned the photos into 3-D like montages which appear to burst through the screen. Combined with Evans' voice, it's a truly unique viewing experience.
What makes the narration so compelling is Evans ability to do both sides of the various conversations he recounts, whether it's ex-wife and muse Ali McGraw, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola or, most notably, then-Gulf & Western CEO and conglomerater Charlie Bludhorn. The Bludhorn imitation stands out. Think Henry Kissinger as a modern-day robber baron and you get the idea.
Of course, you're getting Evans' view here, and Evans' view alone, unencumbered by rebuttal. In Evans' retelling, Coppola was headed into the abyss with 'The Godfather' until Bobby set him straight and gave him the appropriate vision. Somehow, I think Coppola and Mario Puzo might have had a bigger hand in that than what Evans' imagination leads him to believe. But you don't see this movie seeking the truth, just Robert Evans' version of it. For that alone, 'Kid' is a must-see.
on October 2, 2003
"The Kid Stays in the Picture" is a pull-no-punches chronicle of Hollywood producer Robert Evans' rise and fall in the movie business; narrated by Evans himself with one of the better voices you've ever heard, it either interests you or it doesn't, that interest directly proportional to one's fondness and intellectual investment in the movie business itself.
Evans was on his way to becoming an Evan Piccone pants mogul in the 1960s when Norma Shearer spotted him by a Beverly Hills pool and insisted he be cast as her husband, Hollywood mogul Irving Thalberg, in the Lon Chaney biopic, "The Man with 1,000 Faces." He got the role, and later kept a plum role as the bullfighter in "The Sun Also Rises," despite the protests of Ernest Hemingway and Ava Gardner, when studio chief Daryl Zanuck visited the set, watched Evans perform a scene and said, "The kid stays the in picture." From that moment forward, Evans didn't want to be the kid. He wanted to be Zanuck.
And Zanuck he would become for Paramount Studios, which, at the time he took it over, was well behind giants 20th Century and MGM, not to mention six others. But Evans bought a book, "Rosemary's Baby," and found a director, Roman Polanski, that put the studio closer to the Hollywood epicenter. Paramount became the epicenter a few years later when a 30-year-old actress, Ali MacGraw, presented Evans with a project, "Love Story," and, later, her hand in marriage. It touched off a classic movie run that included "The Godfather" and "Chinatown"
The "rise" portion of the film is its best, as Evans recalls the beautiful, mercurial MacGraw in their first meetings - "for a hippee," Evans says, "she sure was comfortable in my pool" - through her affair with Steve McQueen, for whom she walked from roles in "Chinatown" and "The Great Gatsby." Soon after, Evans opted out of Paramount for his own producing deal and fared well through the 1970s before, in, 1979, becoming a coke addict, getting arrested for trying to buying pharmaceutical grade in 1980, then producing a boondoggle in "The Cotton Club" 1984 - which also deep-sixed director Francis Ford Coppola's career as an important movie director. By late 80s, Evans was broke, out of the house he'd owned for 20 years, admitting himself a mental hospital and beginning a comeback that led to another producing deal with Paramount, albeit with movies a cut below Academy Award fare.
Directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen don't exactly use a camera, but compile archive footage, photo stills and cutouts to create a running stream of images, a motion picture collage of sorts, under (and sometimes over) Evans' narration. Only occasionally do the directors interject images that tell the story beyond Evans' words - in one case, as Evans describes his mental hospital stay, scenes from Paramount rush forth in an interesting commentary about the weight of prominent history on a fallen giant.
"Kid" suffers from this approach, too - it would have been nice to see a Coppola interview, or a Polanski interview, or, if it could have been swung, a few minutes with the reclusive MacGraw. Evans doesn't hide from his foibles, but it is difficult, until Dustin Hoffman channels him in a spoof during the credits, to understand just what Evans could be like; if the imitation is to be believed - and it is - the laconic narrator is not exactly what he seems. Other times, Evans just lies - he says "Chinatown" won every award there was to win, when in fact, as good as it was, the movie played second fiddle to "The Godfather, Part II." The advantage of Evans' narration is clear; the lack of balance negates some of it.
Yet the documentary's speed and directness puts it a cut above the typical A&E Biography material. Evans is droll, wise and regretful; he speaks like a man who tasted the top, and, not unlike the John Huston character in "Chinatown," would very much trade his respectability for a taste again.
on August 23, 2003
There is a scene in the middle of Brett Morgan and Nanelle Burnstein's documentary, "The Kid Stays In The Picture" which illustrates why its fascinating subject, film producer Robert Evans, has earned his notorious reputation in Hollywood and has been able to survive there for decades.The year is 1969. The United States is not only fighting a war overseas but is in the middle of a major culture war at home. The movie business is a state of disarray. Evans, in charge of film production at Paramount Studios, is called by the company chiefs to fly to New York for a meeting. Rumor has it that not only will Evans and others lose their jobs but Paramount Studios may shut down altogether. Prior to the meeting, Evans has an idea. He hires director Mike Nichols("The Graduate")to film a five minute "advertisment". The ad simply consists of Evans talking to the camera and expounding, as only Evans can, why the future of Paramount should not only continue but why it will it return as a powerhouse in Hollywood. Deceptively straighforward and simple, Evans sways the executives to keep Paramount's gates open and the rest, as they say, is show business history.
"The Kid Stays In The Picture" is a documentary based on Evans' book of the same title. The film is narrated by Evans in a voice that can only be described as undescribable. Evans tells his story, for the most part, chronologically beginning in New York where Evans and his brother, as young adults, were involved in the production of women's clothing. Having childhood ties to the movie business, Evans was discovered(or some would say rediscovered)while swimming in a pool in Beverly Hills. From there, he got a role opposite James Cagney in "The Man With 1,000 Faces." He appeared in two more feature films before it became clear that he didn't have a promising acting career ahead of him. Having always a desire to be behind the camera, Evans moved ahead, made some very smart moves, and ended up being picked by Paramount head Charles Bludhorn to be the top film producer for the studio.
It becomes clear that Evans' rise to the top of the industry is not only due to his take charge and gutsy personality but also his uncanny future vision. At the same time Evans was beginning his career at Paramount in the the mid to late 60's, the youth movement across the country was in full bloom. There was clearly a "new guard" vs "old guard" mentality in Hollywood that
was emerging. Unlike a lot of producers at the time, Evans was smart enough to find and attract the young writers, directors and actors who began to make up the "New Hollywood" in the late 60's and early 70's. With movies like "The Godfather", "Love Story"(he ended up marrying star Ali McGraw), "The Odd Couple", and "Chinatown", Evans moved Paramount from last to first in annual ticket sales.
If Evans' story had stopped in 1975, he would have already been a legend in Hollywood. Unfortunately, in Hollywood, what goes up always comes down, and Evans was no exception. Admitting that prior to the 70's, he rarely drank, Evans tells his story of how he became one of many cocaine victims during the decade and was, ultimately, shunned by Hollwood for years. To make matters worse, by the time the mid- 80's rolled around, Evans' name was being conected to a drug related murder in which he was never a suspect.
All these details are told with fascinating intensity by Evan as he narrates his life story over a surreal montage of still vintage photos and videos. One of things I love about this movie is how honest Evans is with himself. Yes, he may seem cocky or pompous, however, there is a very clear self-depreciating attitude thought out the film as well. He is also not afraid to have some of his contempt(justified or not)spill forward. His famous conflicts with director Francis Ford Coppola are now Hollywood folklore and are documented here(when receiving his Academy Award at the Oscars for "The Godfather", Coppola "forgot" to thank the producer).
After viewing the "The Kid Stays In The Picture", I began to wonder why I loved it so much. I grew up in the 80's and 90's and I didn't really know much about Evans until I read Peter Biskind's masterpiece, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls". That book, along with this film, records an incredible age in Hollywood that exisited in the late 60's and 70's. An age where the films that were produced were films bursting energy and creativity which we have not seen since that time. Producers, directors, actors and other involved wanted to make money but they also wanted to make smart, cutting edge films that didn't always conform. Today, with marketing at the center of the creative element in today's films, conforming is now the desired result. "The Kid Stays In The Picture" recalls a brief period of time in Hollywood when that wasn't so.
Note: Watch the credits of this movie. Dustin Hoffman does an amusing Robert Evans bit.
on August 21, 2003
The Kid Stays In the Picture
The ultimate insider's look at Hollywood, delivered autobiographically by the ultimate insider, Robert Evans. Plus, it's the classic Hollywood story of rags-to-riches, (perhaps with a few iterations?).
The first quarter of the film, describing how he got the keys to the kingdom, are the slowest. However this section is essential, as it emphasizes how one needs both luck and preparation to get a big break. Evans' early ambition is palpable, even 40 years later in the retelling.
For me the movie really took off around the time Evans' started calling the shots at Paramount. His depiction of a Hollywood in the doldrums of an identity crisis really resonated. Enter Rosemary's Baby, and a fascinating description of Polanski, Farrow, and Sinatra. From there we follow a string of hits that typify the movie Renaissance of the 1970's: The Godfather, The Marathon Man, Serpico, Three Days of the Condor (?), Chinatown, and the Parallax View (to name a few) all have a certain gritty realism about them, while simultaneously being highly stylized artistically. The combination invariably leaves the viewer with an ominous sense of foreboding, pessimistic about the prospects of finding truth in a complex and duplicitous world.
Several hits lay ahead in the second half of the 1970's, but we sense Evans was losing his edge, no doubt in part due to drugs. But he parries away discussion of his post McGraw-carousing, let alone his descent into drugs. Also abridged are the backroom politics and hardball which must have helped him succeed. And while we're on the subject of omissions, just how did he AFFORD to repurchase his Shangri-La?
These are minor criticisms though; like the introduction says, there are three sides to every story. And with such a larger than life personality, we learn more from hearing his one side than we would from having a variety of voices chime in. But the central questions this movie inevitably leaves unanswered are, "Just what enabled him to see which stories, in an evolving landscape, would blossom on screen?" "What did he see?" Perhaps these questions are unanswerable. One thing is certain; he's entirely believable when he looks into the camera and says it was all worth it, for the very good reason that he loves what he does.
on August 19, 2003
"The Kid Stays in the Picture," a documentary about famed movie producer and studio head Robert Evans, begins like "The Great Gatsby," a film Evans produced in 1974. To the wistful strains of "What'll I Do?" playing in the background, the camera glides lovingly over the furnishings, pictures and memorabilia that adorn Evans' Bel Air mansion and estate. The comparison is an apt one, for, like Gatsby, Evans was a wunderkind, a handsome young go-getter who knew early on the kind of life he wanted to lead and who willed himself to attain it. With a combination of good looks, charm, ambition and just a bit of plain old-fashioned good luck, he managed to go from being a mediocre movie actor to becoming the head of Paramount Studios in the course of a mere decade. And what a decade it was! Evans had a major hand in not only lifting Paramount from ninth to first place among Hollywood's major studios, but in bringing such films as "Rosemary's Baby," "True Grit," "Love Story," "Chinatown" and, of course, "The Godfather" to movie screens everywhere.
"The Kid Stays in the Picture" is a dream-come-true for hardcore cinephiles, providing a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into one of the true Golden Ages of Hollywood filmmaking. Evans' story is, in fact, the story of that time, for truly he hobnobbed with virtually every one of the key players responsible for that era. Evans' tale follows a fairly conventional arc for men of his type: the ambitious kid with dreams of larger-than-life glory achieves meteoric success in the entertainment business only to have his ambitions dashed on the shores of rampant egotism, overconfidence and drug addiction. In fact, Evans' life would make perfect fodder for a film of its own, as this documentary and the positive response to it demonstrates. Evans himself narrates the film, and although he tends to be a bit easier on himself than an outsider might have been, he is still willing to chastise himself when he feels it's called for and to render some rather startlingly unflattering assessments of certain major players on the Hollywood scene. He is, also, however, utterly devoted to those he feels have stuck by him through good times and bad, and he is not averse to lavishing praise on others when it is due. One objection to Evans' narration is that he doesn't always speak with the utmost clarity, sometimes making what he says come out garbled and incomprehensible.
As a piece of filmmaking, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" offers a kaleidoscopic array of stills, film clips and reenactments that reflect the temper and mood of the time. Directors Brett Morgan and Nanette Burstein obviously pored through a wealth of material on the subject, culling from it a comprehensive, streamlined and fast-moving narrative that grips the audience with its humor, its sadness and its tribute to the indomitableness of the human spirit. For if Evans' story is about anything, it is about how important it is for each individual to achieve his dreams and how equally vital it is for that same person, once he has fallen down, to pick himself up off the floor so that he can continue pursuing that dream.
"The Kid Stays in the Picture" is a wonderful time capsule for those who love movies. No true film fan should miss it.