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[whitespace] 'The Kid Stays in the Picture'
Star Search: A young Robert Evans hobnobs with Joan Collins.

Goodnight, Jay Gatsby

The many lives of producer Robert Evans are assaged in 'The Kid Stays in the Picture'

By Traci Vogel

HOLLYWOOD, the legend goes, can swallow a person whole. Tinseltown, so glittery in appearance, turns an acidic shoulder to the most hopeful and offers most careers a kick in the face within five minutes. Which means you've got to admire someone like Robert Evans--subject of the new documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture--who has kicked right back as a producer for almost 40 years at Paramount Pictures. Evans' film career began in 1956, as he shook blue water from his hair poolside at a Hollywood hotel. Young, already wealthy (he and his brother owned the clothing company Evan Picone) and horsily good-looking, Evans first caught fire playing industry mogul Irving Thalberg in the James Cagney biopic about Lon Chaney, Man of a Thousand Faces. It was movie magic straight out of A Star Is Born. Agents hailed Evans as the next Clark Gable, girls swooned, deals were made.

Except that Evans--the Kid--couldn't act to save his fancy britches, and soon enough Hollywood began to spit him out along with the pith of the mediocre. Evans had to find something he was more than mediocre at. The Kid, it turned out, was a born genius son-of-a-bitch. Or, to use another term, a producer. By 1974, Robert Evans had produced The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, Harold and Maude and Chinatown--and that's just the short list. Ensconced in the biggest office on Paramount's lot, married to Ali MacGraw, Evans kept rolling double sixes. It seemed he would never make a misstep.

But the story of Evans' life wouldn't make such a fine movie if there hadn't been a spectacular crash and burn to match the fairy-tale beginning. The Kid Stays in the Picture caroms through a life that hits highs and lows with equal intensity, sliding into a nadir in 1984 when Evans is implicated in murder charges concerning a financier who backed The Cotton Club. Divorced, abandoned by friends and colleagues, strung out on cocaine, bankrupt, the Kid skidded out through the '80s and '90s, only to find yet another life, and yet another side of Hollywood, as he entered his 60s.

While it is full of delicious insider trivia and a lot of history, The Kid Stays in the Picture is too subjective to be a traditional documentary. Written by Evans, narrated in his tigerish voice, full of intimate photos, it's as one-sided as storytelling comes. Evans himself has said, "It's not a documentary--it's perseverance." Sentiments like that, along with the film's superplush camera stylings and the use of photo cutouts, make viewing The Kid feel like viewing a giant greeting card come to life. This, however, is one of those personalized greeting cards, and the message inside, from Evans to Hollywood, is a big fat "Fuck you." Some people, however, may take that quite readily as a "Thank you," and oh, the mixed messages are fun to watch. Evans' charm is bigger than life, but life, especially his own, has a way of getting bigger all the time.

The Kid Stays in the Picture (R; 91 min.), a documentary by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, opens Friday at Camera One in San Jose and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

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From the August 8-14, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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