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The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)

The Story Of A Man Who Seduced Hollywood

Directed by:

Brett Morgen

Nanette Burstein

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 94 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

In 1956, ladies' wear salesman Robert Evans takes a dip in a pool on his lunchbreak, where he is discovered by Norma Shearer, who offers him a rôle in a film. After a brief stint as a 'half-assed' actor, Evans become a producer, and is soon Senior Vice-President at Paramount. His talent for spotting innovative scripts and developing them into box-office hits (e.g. 'Rosemary's Baby', 'Love Story', 'The Godfather', 'Chinatown', 'Midnight Cowboy') makes him the toast of the town, but then problems with cocaine and the association of his name with the 'Cotton Club murder' lead to a spectacular fall from grace. It is only through the help of his friends that he has been able to reclaim his palatial home and his sanity, and to start clawing his way back to the top of Hollywood.

This is the plot of 'The Kid Stays in the Picture', based on Robert Evans' autobiography of the same name, and narrated by Robert Evans himself. It is also, as anyone familiar with Hollywood cinema knows, a narrative arc beloved by film executives: young man from nowhere rises to the very top through luck and determination, is toppled by some setback, but then overcomes adversity and climbs right back up again. It is the American dream writ large in three film-friendly movements, making the audience laugh and cry, but leaving them with that essential feel-good factor.

This is precisely what makes 'The Kid Stays in the Picture' so interesting: Evans' life is made (by Evans) to look just like one of the crowd-pleasing blockbusters he is so good at selling. As we watch Evans' great success at finessing, flattering and manipulating his way into the heart of Hollywood, we cannot help but wonder whether this film is just another of his self-promoting pitches. And while Evans remains at the centre of everything in this film, one is left having to work very hard to get any kind of fixed impression of him. In his narration he hides behind Hollywood cliché ('Tough? You betcha life it is') and inspirational psycho-babble ('luck is when opportunity meets preparation'), following a script so hackneyed it cannot possibly reveal any insights into his individuality. The documentary footage mostly comprises images from the very press which he is at such pains to condemn for distorting and exaggerating his life. In short, while the kid may stay in the picture, amidst all the Hollywood razzledazzle and media hype he remains little more than a blur.

The film has an innovative visual style, placing stills of Evans and his colleagues in backgrounds which move, and is full of anecdotal gossip. But really this is a film about the way in which Hollywood packages and sells dreams, with Evans – always the ham actor, always the salesman – at its centre.

As the credits roll, there is footage from 1997 of Dustin Hoffman improvising an impression of 'Evans, 20 years later'. What we see for the first time here is a picture of Evans through the eyes of someone else who has worked with him and knows him well, and although the portrayal is affectionate, it is more revealing than anything Evans says about himself. Hoffman shows Evans as stumbling, incoherent, eternally talking up a deal, and pathetic in his self-belief. This scene is the key to the whole film – a ray of morning sunshine after a long, strange dream.

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It's Got: Laughter, tears, pizzazz, fantasy, success against all odds, the American dream, and lots of Hollywood gossip.

It Needs: To be taken with a big pinch of salt (but that is half the fun).

DVD Extras Documentaries usually include no bonus material at all, and The Kid Stays in the Picture is in effect its own commentary, but nonetheless there are plenty of extras here – 54 minutes of them in all. There is lots of footage from the 2003 Spirit of Life Award Ceremony in Evans honour, including brief interviews with friends and colleagues (mostly banal and far too hagiographical), a charming award speech from Dustin Hoffman, Evans himself telling a tearful story involving Larry King and declaring his true love to his new, sixth wife (who has now, poignantly enough, divorced him). Also included is a clip (mentioned in the documentary) which Evans presented to Paramounts board of directors, and more footage of Dustin Hoffman doing funny but revealing impressions of Evans (in fact these are outtakes from Marathon Man), the pick of which appears at the end of the film itself. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

Chinatown, Easy Riders, Love Story, Marathon Man, Midnight Cowboy, Raging Bulls, Rosemarys Baby, The Cotton Club, The Godfather

Summary

This story of one producer's contribution to Hollywood's finest period – the late 1960s and 1970s – all packaged like a hyperbolic pitch for a schmaltzy blockbuster. Self-mythologisation has never been so fascinating, and so fun.

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