The Kid Stays in the Picture Review
By Shawn McKenzie 08/18/2002
It is rare when you find a documentary that is worth checking out at the theater. I know when I think of documentaries, I think of only watching them on TV, and usually only on cable. The Kid Stays in the Picture is one documentary worth seeing on the big screen.
This is coming from a guy who is a biography show junkie. I love “Biography,” “E! True Hollywood Story,” “Behind the Music,” etc. Something about watching the life story of an interesting personality is so entertaining. Up until now though, I never considered going to the theater to see a documentary of a person’s life. Of course, when that person is Robert Evans, it’s hard to resist.
For those who don’t know who Robert Evans is, he was the head of Paramount Studios during their heyday in the late sixties and seventies. He started out as a lousy actor (which he freely admits in the movie), but became inspired to want to become a producer when he portrayed producer Irving Thalberg in the movie Man of a Thousand Faces. With virtually no credits to his name, he became the head of Paramount (I believe it was driven by his theory that owning story properties was the way to success.) He oversaw production on some hugely successful Paramount classics, like Rosemary’s Baby (where he tells the famous tale of Mia Farrow being served her divorce papers by then husband Frank Sinatra on the set), Love Story (starring his third wife Ali MacGraw), The Godfather (a film he actually demanded be longer than the original cut), and many more. He then spiraled into drugs and got caught up in a murder by a financier of one of his flops, 1984’s The Cotton Club. The fact that he narrates the movie tells you that he survived.
In fact, it is the narration and the visuals that set this documentary apart from most documentaries. From what I heard, the audio book version of the 1994 novel that this documentary is based on outsold the novel itself. Evans wrote the novel, and he is the voice on the audio book. He narrates in a style that reminds you of those old film noir detective films of the fifties. I can see why the audio book sold well, because the combination of his words and the sound of how he expresses them are so cool! The directors of The Kid Stays in the Picture, Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen (who previously directed a boxing documentary called On the Ropes and a documentary mini-series for VH1 called “Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America”), used a unique visual style that I have never seen before in a documentary. They had stills of Evans and other people in his life as cutouts, and put them in front of stills of important locales in his life, making a kind of 3-D look. The cutouts almost look as if they are moving!
If I had one complaint about the movie, it would be that I didn’t think it spent enough time on his troubles in the eighties (during the Cotton Club troubles.) Evans doesn’t censor or leave out any of his low points, but he doesn’t expand on them too much. All I can guess is than he told just enough to hook you, but not so much to bore you. That probably explains why he doesn’t even mention his four other wives.
Evans’s life was an exciting and interesting rollercoaster that could have been easily adapted into a regular feature with actors portraying the key figures, but it would have missed Evans’s unique personality. I think that is what sells The Kid Stays in the Picture. Who would know that better than Evans himself would?
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