Film Reviews

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE

By • Jul 26th, 2002 •

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This excessively indulgent look at the career of Robert Evans – orchestrated and narrated by him(and titled after his autobiography) – is aggressive self-glorification comparable to Caesar and Napoleon. Ah, thank God Evans was more interested in movies than land. But Bob, you’ve missed out on all those paintings of, and monuments to, yourself. Well, you do have the twenty-first century equivalent: A movie all about you. Not only does it star you, you have no co-stars to share screen time with.

For a touch of humanity you do include losing a “goddess” you carelessly sent on an extended exotic film location with the biggest, sexiest star in the world.You don’t call. You never visit. You lose her. However, you did lose her to a movie star. It’s not too shabby a personal triumph when Steve McQueen covets your wife.

Let’s pause to ponder the glut of self-aggrandizing images – just fabulous photos of you looking young and gorgeous. Did you ever meet anyone you didn’t take a photo with? So what if there was a little tragedy sprinkled throughout your golden life? Without the drugs, cuckold marriage, and high profile murder, who would want to sit through a filmography of your career? All good myths have to have some tragedy or else it would be necessary to invent (or embellish) them.

Evans would like us to believe (well, I certainly don’t) that his Hollywood career miraculously just happened. Obviously, being born into a well-to-do family and generously anointed V.P. of Evans-Picone had some cache. However, lounging one day at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool was all it took. Evans was instantly plucked by Norma Shearer to star opposite James Cagney. Six months later he was gifted with another starring role. Hence, the remark Evans has insisted be as famous as “Veni, vidi, vici.” When everybody bitched about his starring role, Darryl F. Zanuck, the legendary producer, proclaimed: “The kid stays in the picture.”

Evans narrates the film without giving any insight into the business. Forget self-reflection. Yeah, Evans got to the lofty top, but it was sort of thrust upon him by Charles Bludhorn, who appointed him head of Paramount. And while he knew, or slept with, nearly everybody, he offers no perspective on the mystique of fame. He’s so entrenched in it he has no objectivity. Nor would he even consider it. There were no enemies, bruised egos, jilted lovers, angry ex-partners, or ugly scenes. Since Evans does all the talking, there are no contradictions, no questions asked.

How’s this for a lack of introspection? One evening in bed with a famous actress, when Evans is 50 years old, he is given his first snort of cocaine. He then casually informs us he decided to go in on a deal to buy high-grade pharmaceutical cocaine. (Evans skips over the quantity involved). Guys get busted, but all he has to do is some community spots. He turns these into star-laden extravaganzas. Once again, it’s all about him. When was the last time your name was linked to a murder, and well, you just met the guy briefly?

There is delightful movie making insider stuff about ROSEMARY’S BABY (nothing of memorable note about the masterpiece Evans takes full credit for, THE GODFATHER). Evans hails director Roman Polanski a genius, giving himself credit for finding and fighting to have him direct the movie. We learn nothing from Evans about the complex Polanski. Evans does allow us a fascinating glimpse into Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra’s famous breakup. It is also interesting to see Polanski on the set with Mia. She places her arm on a table. Polanski moves it. She moves it back. He quickly returns and places it where he wants it. The arm stays put. So this is acting. Directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen should be commended for doing a fabulous job with the material. THE KID begins as an eerie homage to CITIZEN KANE. It’s dark, somber, and full of regret. We are supposed to be sad. The music is haunting. This is a story about a guy who had it all and lost it. Through graphics, 3-D embellishments, and fast camera work through thousands of pictures, we get the sense of movement and thrill. The music tells us disaster is approaching. Evans sells his palatial house to an industrialist and then Jack gets it back for him.

The narration is basically Evans describing the photos. Okay, Evans does admit being stupid about that drug thing. (Come on, pharmaceutical cocaine? They would have made a fortune!)

I came out of this film knowing nothing about Evans from Evans. However, stay for the credits and see a devastating comic impersonation by Dustin Hoffman filmed in 1972 that is revelatory. Apparently, it brutally mines the Robert Evans people really knew. Even then, Evans was thinking about his future autobiographical movie. Someone besides me must have considered THE KID a manipulative whitewash, so these few minutes were added on at the end. Hoffman pretends to be Evans taking a phone call. The motor-mouth (that Evans subdues for his narration), the selfishness, the impervious nature, continual reference to “the closet” (whatever that means, only Jack, Warren, and Dustin know), and the scathing remark that Evans wouldn’t be going to a famous journalist’s funeral because she hasn’t written about him in twenty years, says it all.

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