Friday, May 6, 2016

The Kid Stays in the Picture

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE takes its title from a quote by Darryl Zanuck, studio head at 20th Century Fox during the filming of 1957's adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's  The Sun Also Rises.   A young salesman of women's pants named Robert Evans had been spotted in an NYC nightclub by Zanuck, who cast him as bullfighter Pedro Romero.  This was not a popular decision among the lead cast or even Hemingway himself.  The chief overruled all.  Evans kept the part.  He would later use the quote for the title of his 1994 autobiography and eventual documentary.

Evans narrates 2002's THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, stating early on that he was "shitting his pants" during his brief career as a Hollywood heartthrob.  He much preferred to be the guy who got to decide if the kid stayed in the picture.  By the late 60s, after gaining the attention of Gulf & Western titan Charles Bluhdorn, he would become head of production at Paramount Studios, then ranked ninth among the Hollywood fantasy factories.  Evans dramatically reversed fortunes and an impressive string of films (ROSEMARY'S BABY, TRUE GRIT, THE GODFATHER, LOVE STORY) would be made during his tenure.  But the kid was tired of "making everyone else rich" and became an independent producer in the mid-70s, beginning with CHINATOWN.

There would be several more years of success before the inevitable fallout. He would finally succumb to drugs.  The movies started to bomb.  There was even an unfortunate association with a murder case that would put him on the LaLa Land blacklist.  He would lose his office at Paramount and his beloved Beverly Hills hideaway.  Perhaps a classic riches to rags tale, surely one of many in Los Angeles.

Maybe Evans was a classic Hollywood "winner": driven, aggressive, tireless, combative, manipulative.  Qualities that "get the job done".  One doesn't climb the ranks by always being agreeable and tender hearted.  Perhaps it was just survival.  Life in the shark tank requires a mettle and fearlessness that many do not have the stomach for.  Like that of many similar classic Hollywood legends, his personal life suffered badly.  Seven broken marriages, a few "blink and you'll miss it".  One annulment. Another with rising star Ali MacGraw, who would bear his only child and eventually leave him for Steve McQueen.

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE is a generally satisfying paraphrase of Evans' book, a tell-all of the Hollywood fast lane.  I have not read it (wonder if it's as brutal as Julia Phillips' You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again?) but am curious to learn more about all those marriages (only the one with MacGraw is mentioned here) and the behind the scenes fracas with Coppola on THE GODFATHER and later, the bloated, ill-fated THE COTTON CLUB.  I felt a bit cheated with the time spent on GODFATHER, but surely a miniseries could be created on that topic alone.  It was interesting to hear that Paramount actually shaped the book Mario Puzo wrote before it ever became a movie adaptation.  The ambitions were high for this saga, and Evans and company set out to make a truly authentic Italian Mob drama, as all the previous ones were "made by and starred Jews."

Directors/producers/writers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan have created a brisk, fascinating bio that sports a wealth of privileged photographs of Evans' high and low life and some creative use of pop-up book like images to punctuate the subject's anecodotes.  Bludhorn, for example, is always shown in black and white with a semi-malevolent expression, whether smiling or otherwise.  There are clips from talk shows and Dustin Hoffman does his best Evans impersonation over the end titles.

Evans' voice is both soothing and irritating, his cockiness still intact even after decades of failure.  But he always sounds wistful, full of longing and acknowledgement for his halcyon years.  Wise to his own excess and flaws, though I suspect he whitewashed his story (and himself) for this documentary, lest he sound so self absorbed as to be a complete turn off.  It's hard to tell sometimes if we're being buffaloed by the man, and what to say that the film begins with the very accurate statement that every story has three sides: mine, yours, and the truth?  I can imagine MacGraw, Coppola, Robert Towne, and all the rest might have a different take on the events depicted.

But either way,  being an insufferable asshole does get you places, just take a gander at the current Presidential race.
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