Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Day 149: The Kid Stays in the Picture
"Any man who thinks he can read the mind of a woman is a man who knows nothing."
I recently began reading Robert Evans' memoir The Kid Stays in the Picture, and couldn't help but think that it had been a while since I'd seen the brilliant 2003 documentary of the same name. In spite of the fact that I've seen it dozens of times, I was enraptured all over again from about thirty seconds in all the way until the end. If you haven't seen it, you're doing yourself a disservice, as it is one of the truly great documentaries that's ever been made.
The film utilizes voice-over narration from Evans himself, intercut with archival footage and a ton of stills and newspaper headlines from the mid-50s through the mid-90s. It's a casting coup because truly no one could have done justice to his story other than the man himself. I've only recently begun reading the book, so the portion of his life story that I'm currently on isn't even covered in the film, not that it needed to be. The film starts with Evans recounting how, on a business trip to Hollywood, he was discovered by Norma Shearer to play her late husband Irivng Thalberg in the film Man of a Thousand Faces.
His acting career peaked with his next film The Sun Also Rises, in which the author Ernest Hemingway and the film's three stars demanded that he be fired. But after proving himself on the first day of filming, producer Daryl Zanuck utters the famous line Evans lifted for the title of his book (and this film), silencing the naysayers, and dictating the course of Evans' life and career. He then goes through his charmed existence as the Vice President of motion pictures at Paramount, how he branched out on his own and became a producer, and then fell victim to the excesses and decadent lows of the 80s.
It's a riveting portrait, if for no other reason than Evans isn't above besmirching his own reputation. Evans is simultaneously his biggest advocate and detractor, a balancing act that has no business working as well as it does. Basically, he's never willing to let anyone else call him out on his own shortcomings, but he's also not above taking credit for anything and everything he possibly can. He shouldn't be as endearing a character as he is, but god damnit if you don't just love the guy through it all.
The film was directed by Brett Morgen & Nanette Burstein, the former of whom has stayed in the documentary business, while the latter has moved on to fiction and television. I'm not sure exactly which of them is responsible for what in the film, so I will praise them on equal footing. Their style is brilliant, a collage of still pictures brought to vibrant life, intercut with footage from Evans' films as an actor & producer, along with a healthy dose of vintage interviews. They have given an endlessly readable book an equally watchable vibrancy that works for all the right reasons.
And as much as they dress up the proceedings with a ton of visual flair, the film ultimately belongs to Evans, the consummate showman. The guy knows how to tell a story, and while he brags of being blessed with tremendous recall, he portrays everyone as talking in quips and quotes and soundbytes, and it shouldn't work, but it does. The man has a gift for the English language and it's on full display here. There are people of whom you could say that you could listen to them read the phone book, and if Robert Evans is not on that list, then you've never heard him speak.
This is a phenomenal film, worthy of your time any time you visit with it. It's as vital a documentary as it is a book, and that is really saying something. It's the perfect ninety minute trailer for the book, which is probably exactly how Evans envisioned it in the first place. If you've never seen it, you need to stop reading immediately and go watch it, and if it's been a while since you've seen it, it's time to go listen to your old Uncle Bob. He's just as crazy as ever, but damned if it isn't the most enjoyable brand of crazy imaginable.