Best of 2002: #4.
"There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth."
This quote opens "The Kid Stays In The Picture", the new documentary about producer and former studio head Robert Evans, which is based upon his autobiography. This is purely Evans's side of the story, but it's told in grand fashion and presented marvelously by directors Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein.
The picture opens with Evans discussing his stint as an actor. Already a successful businessman at an early age, he was spotted by a pool and signed to star in "Man of a Thousand Faces". In a later film, studio head Daryl Zanuck even went against the wishes of the cast and crew, who wanted Evans out - he declared, "the kid stays in the picture", which is where the title of both book and film came from.
His acting career stalled out soon enough, as all it took was one flop for Evans to be out of the acting business. Still, the actor had had enough of a taste of the business that he set out to become head of a studio. Soon enough, at a young age and with hardly any experience, Evans found himself the head of Paramount, a studio that had fallen on tough times at that point. Within a few years, he had begun to change the studio around, bringing in unexpected hits like "Rosemary's Baby", "The Godfather", "Love Story" and "Chinatown". As classic as those films became, their road to the screen was definitely not easy and those stories (Evans's battles with Coppola over "The Godfather", Evans pushing Polanski to finish "Rosemary's Baby") serve as the very entertaining main body of "Kid Stays in the Picture".
However, where there's a rise, there's also a fall: "Kid" recounts the producer's marriage to Ali McGraw, which failed when McGraw was found to be having an affair. It also discusses, although not in great detail, the enormous failure of "The Cotton Club", the 1984 re-teaming of Evans and Ford Coppola. Eventually, when Evans finally hits his lowest point, those who have stood by his side over the many years (especially Jack Nicholson) help him get things back together for a return to the producing business at Paramount.
I certainly haven't given away all that happens in "Kid", which honestly does an amazing job compressing years of history into a sleek, fast-moving 91 minutes. The story itself is never less than riveting, but the directing duo have gotten every other detail down wonderfully. They have provided loads of stills, clips and other material documenting the producer's career and even brought in ace cinematographer John Bailey to film some additional footage. The editing, as previously mentioned, is stellar. Best of all is the producer's hilariously profane narration.
Certainly, this is a one-sided look at the life of Evans and, although the directors have attempted to make him out to be the "hero", he clearly reaches that point on his own. Whatever he's done wrong in his life, I admired him because the successful films that he did at Paramount in the 70's seemed mostly pushed forward through production because he believed in them when others didn't.
By the end, as Evans makes his triumphant return to Hollywood, the documentary had built up this incredible story so wonderfully, I was almost disapointed that a title card before the credits had to tell the whole truth: in the 90's, Evans went on to produce: "Sliver", "Jade", "The Phantom", "The Out-of-Towners" and "The Saint". While there were a couple of hits in that group, none were a critical success.
Still, I think "The Kid Stays in the Picture" is one of the most entertaining pictures that I've seen all year. Evans recounts his legendary stories with entertaining flair and enjoyable details. The piece is also one of the most beautifully crafted documentaries that I've seen in quite some time. "Kid" is a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in the film business.
VIDEO: "The Kid Stays in the Picture" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. If possible, the picture appears even better here than it did when I watched a screening of the film last year. It's understandable that some older footage and stock footage mixed in with the picture look scratched and soft. However, the remainder of the picture, with crisp old photographs (some of which have been digitally altered to make them appear to have some motion and be more dynamic) and current fotage look fantastic. Sharpness and detail are superb, with smooth, crisp and well-defined images.
Aside from the previously mentioned concerns with the stock footage, the picture really didn't have much in the way of issues. A trace of edge enhancement was present in a couple of spots, but this was hardly a concern. No compression artifacts were spotted.
SOUND: "The Kid Stays in the Picture" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Despite the fact that this is a documentary, the film's soundtrack manages to match the punch of the film's strong visual style. Occasional whoosh sound effects come from the surrounds, but the film's score (by Jeff Danna) and a stellar mix of classic tunes do a wonderful job pulling the film forward. The score has a dynamic, rich presence, while the narration by Evans remains crisp and clear throughout. Certainly not anything too aggressive, but certainly more active than most documentary soundtracks.
Commentary: The DVD offers a commentary from Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein, directors. Morgen discusses the film during the first half of the picture, while both directors discuss the production during the last half of the picture. Morgen's discussion of the first half of the picture includes not only his views on the picture itself and its construction, but his views on documentary filmmaking as a whole - how it can serve as both education and entertainment. Both filmmakers have plenty to share about the making of the picture, including the various techniques that the filmmakers used to make photos more visually interesting and where some of the footage was found.
The Film That Saved Paramount: This appears to be the entire short film/interview that Evans taped for executives to try and convince them to keep the studio open. When clips of the film aren't available (maybe due to rights issues), Evans provides comments over a "title" screen.
The Kid Speaks: This is a group of short interviews, which includes some footage of Evans at an awards ceremony and an ABC interview that appears to be pretty recent.
Gag Reel: A very funny 8 1/2 minute gag reel featuring Dustin Hoffman, often spoofing Evans.
Red Carpet: Short interviews about Evans with many varied people (Craig Kilborn, Peter Bart, Larry King, Arthur Hiller, Jack Valenti, Brett Ratner, Matthew McConaughey and others) are offered.
Also: Interview with former showgirls about Evans, the film's trailer and bios.
Final Thoughts: "The Kid Stays in the Picture" is one of the most involving, entertaining documentaries that I've seen in years. Not only is Evans a wonderful, compelling storyteller, directors Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein do a remarkable job pulling together footage, pictures and other material into a documentary that's visually dynamic. A triumph from everyone involved, and certainly one of the best films I saw in 2002. Warner Brothers has put together a terrific DVD, with excellent audio/video quality and supplements. A must-see.
The Film ****