Dirs: Brett Morgen & Nanette Burstein. US. 2001. 93 mins.
As an irresistible portrait of Hollywood narcissism, this documentary adaptation of Robert Evan's memoirs as a studio mogul is a guilty pleasure of the most complicit kind. Shedding their cinema verite backgrounds, the film-making duo of Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein apply a thick, subjective coat of high-gloss varnish to a tabloid-tailored life of sex, drugs and corporate rock 'n' roll. An essential item for any film festival, The Kid Stays In The Picture is a good bet for a limited theatrical run aimed at all those in our world who like to devour hours of behind-the-scenes DVD extras. Longer term, this exuberantly seductive account of life in Hollywood's burn-out lane looks destined for a television shelf-life as enduring as the cult audio tapes of the same name that Evans narrated five years ago.
No doubt hoping that his own gravel-voiced words would eventually betray his megalomaniacal self-deceptions, Morgen and Burstein let Evans speak entirely for his own iconic existence these past five decades. There are no glamorous talking heads to supplement this self-serving commentary, and certainly none of the prurient asides that make all those late-night Hollywood Inside Stories such titillating TV trash. Instead, Evans' enthralling anecdotes are brought to life through an artfully chosen array of video footage, classic film clips and still image photographs, much of it digitally animated and blended in ways that set a new standards for archival-based documentaries.
Completing this intensely expressionistic visual mosaic is the lush candy-coloured cinematography of John Bailey, whose camera is allowed into Evans' retro-Beverly Hills hideaway with its poolside garden of 2,000 rose bushes. And how appropriate, for this is a deliberately rose-tinted interpretation of a man who has come to embody, if not parody, the universal image of a Hollywood snake/charmer for whom manufactured reality is everything.
There are few in today's studio system who can come even close to Evans' superlative track record in shepherding modern-day masterpieces - films like Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, The Conformist, Harold And Maude, Don't Look Now and, of course, The Godfather and its sequel. But there are even fewer who can match his penchant for personal theatrics. Evans is discovered as an actor because he looks like Irving Thalberg; he is hired as chief of production at Paramount Pictures largely because of a flattering newspaper article by an entertainment journalist he promptly hires as his studio sidekick; he saves Paramount from being shut down by hiring Mike Nichols to shot a promo reel introducing the studio's upcoming films; and he seduces Ali McGraw into marrying him and then watches as she runs away with Steve McQueen, her co-star, appropriately enough, in The Getaway. Then comes the cocaine bust, a rumoured involvement in the so-called "Cotton Club" murder and decades in the Hollywood wilderness from which he is only just emerging as some kind of resurrected maverick indie.
"There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth," Evans is quoted as saying right at the start this documentary. "And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently." Morgen and Burstein could not have expressed their own intentions any better. Rather than pass overt judgement on his bad boy antics, they have self-consciously directed this the way that Evans might have directed his own autobiography so that we might revere and revile this oversized ego in equal measure. The end result offers no real insights into Evans' psychological make-up, but it ends up revealing everything about our own lurid love affair with Tinseltown excess and its make-believe culture.
Prod cos: Highway Films, Ministry of Propaganda Films
US dist: USA Films
Int'l sales: Cinetic Media
Prods: Graydon Carter, Brett Morgen, Nanette Burstein,
Scr: Morgan, based on the book by Robert Evans
Ed: Jun Diaz
Cinematography: John Bailey
Music: Jeff Danna