While movie stars have often had the most ink devoted to them in the pages of newspapers and tabloids, it is often the decision-makers behind the scenes who have the most interesting stories. Actor-turned-studio-savior Robert Evans had more stories than most, and he chronicled his atypical career path and fascinating dealings within the establishment in his hit autobiography The Kid Stays In The Picture. While his self-narrated audiobook is the stuff of legend, it is not a surprise that these stories could not be contained to one medium. In 2002, filmmakers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen (On The Ropes) decided the book would make an interesting documentary, and they went about shaping it into a form that would work best for the format. Turns out the only way to properly tell the Robert Evans story is by allowing him to do it himself. While inherently biased, the very forthcoming Evans told his story with a flair for the dramatic which you might expect from a Hollywood fixture. The result is one of the most entertaining documentaries on the Hollywood system.
The way in which the feature is framed allows it to be a timeless artifact. There is not a single shot in the present which allows it to feel as if you are conjuring up a forgotten memory from long ago. Outside of some stylized establishing shots of a luxurious Hollywood mansion, the remainder of the film is composed exclusively of film footage, photographs and brief snippets of clips and interviews to round out his story. Evans makes a meal of his scripted narration and delivery, bringing to mind a classic gumshoe or gangster in an old-school Hollywood noir. As one of the figures responsible for bringing Chinatown to the screen, you are not surprised. The earliest memories within the film are of his initial business enterprises around Hollywood before being plucked out of obscurity by Norma Shearer and set on a career as a performer. This period of his life was short-lived, but he did stick around long enough to pick up the phrase that would become the title of his book and this film.
Anyone who knows Evans would understand that he would much rather be the person in charge of making decisions than a performer serving at the will of another. The film is at its most interesting when he elevates Paramount Pictures from near-closure to number one in the business. With hit after hit from Love Story to Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather and beyond you are treated to one fascinating anecdote after the next. Was Evans the one to convince Mia Farrow to divorce Frank Sinatra rather than give up her iconic role in the Roman Polanski film? Did Francis Ford Coppola actually need convincing that his initial version of The Godfather needed to be longer? These are just a few of the juicy stories you get straight from Evans. The most personal may be how a “snot nosed” Ali MacGraw went from being a “volatile” young actress to his wife and mother of his child. You do not even need to be a Robert Evans “fan” to appreciate these stories, only a love of 70s cinema.
Of course, Evans did not have the perfect Hollywood career, and he does not pull too many punches when he talks about his scandal involving ties to a murder plot along with his career-altering dalliance with drugs. It is easy to appreciate the places where Evans is willing to go, but given the limitations imposed by the filmmakers to keep the film streamlined there are numerous aspects of his life that are glossed over entirely, such as any relationship outside of his marriage to MacGraw. There is also the issue of this being entirely from Evans’ point of view that keeps this movie from being the final word on these situations. There is no one else to dispute his account of the facts, and Evans is shown to be quite the storyteller throughout the film. His stories are wildly fascinating, but you can only consume them as a story and not a cold, hard fact. As a distillation of the life of Robert Evans’ life that is approved for consumption by Evans, this is a supremely engaging piece of filmmaking. If your interest is piqued enough after viewing this, you may find yourself seeking out alternate texts to see how they compare. Hollywood is an endless source of transfixing narratives and counter-narratives.
The Kid Stays In The Picture comes to Blu-Ray in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio from a solid high definition master. The film is composed almost entirely of clips from various films and stock footage along with some new stylized location shots around a Hollywood villa. The footage looks as good as the original source material will allow. The material used at the time seems to be the best sources that were available, but there have obviously been numerous remasters over the years for many of these pictures. The transfer appears to have plenty of room to breathe and there are no issues with compression artifacts, banding or other digital nuisances. The colors featured in the film are natural and vibrant as they provide a nice visual pop on screen. Black levels are appropriately deep and give way to a nice amount of detail in shadows. I do not see how this set could have been improved visually. It’s a beautiful transfer handled with care by Kino Classics.
This Blu-Ray comes with both a strong DTS-HD 5.1 & 2.0 Master Audio track that captures the material well enough. Dialogue is the driving force of the film, and the narration that accompanies the entirety of the film holds up beautifully. The dialogue in some of the clips used is not quite as crisp, but it holds up as well as the source material will allow. The effective score and soundtrack is resolved well here as it permeates throughout the room. Ambient sounds are placed accurately in the rear channels. The audio track is not pushed to the limit with this content, but it delivers the information clear enough to get the information you need. There are optional English SDH subtitles included for those who desire them.
- Audio Commentary: Directors Brett Morgan and Nanette Burstein tag-team on this commentary track in which Morgan covers the first half of the film and Burstein picks up in the second half. This is a really enthralling track which both delves into the atypical structure of the documentary and practical challenges in making the film, but also explores more Hollywood history that will have film fans riveted.
- The Truth About Bob – The Film That Saved Hollywood: An eight-minute vintage look at Evans as he discusses his work at Paramount while introducing clips to various projects that are not provided here.
- The Truth About Bob – On The Red Carpet: A minute-long interview with an aged Evans on the red carpet accompanied by his wife.
- The Truth About Bob – Up Close With The Kid: A five-minute ABC Up Close news piece which profiles Evans and the process of having his life turned into a film.
- The Truth About Bob – The Spirit Of Life Award: A fifteen-minute piece which shows the ceremony where Evans was presented the Spirit Of Life award by Larry King. The speech Evans gives is just as lively as you would expect, and the piece ends with footage from his wedding video.
- The Truth About Bob – Receiving The Lifetime Achievement Award: A thirteen-minute clip in which Dick Clark and Dustin Hoffman present Evans with the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award.
- The Truth According To Others – Showgirls On Evans: A minute-and-a-half clip in which a panel of women share their memories of dating Evans.
- The Truth According To Others – The Evans Gag Reel: A nine-minute look at Dustin Hoffman embodying Evans for a few laughs.
- The Truth According To Others – On The Red Carpet: An eleven-minute piece in which various figures offer thoughts on Evans and his career including Matthew Mcconaughey and more.
- Trailers: The minute-and-a-half long trailer for The Kid Stays In The Picture is provided here. There is also a trailer provided for Filmworker.
The Kid Stays In The Picture is one of the great Hollywood documentaries thanks to the unparalleled life of its subject and the manner in which it is told. Evans can lay on his delivery more than a bit thick, but it is part of the overwrought charm of this very one-sided feature. Kino Classics has released a Blu-Ray for this one featuring an excellent A/V presentation and a nice array of special features. If you want to learn more about one of the biggest players in 70s Hollywood, you should not miss this one. Recommended
The Kid Stays In The Picture is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.