(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have. Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films. But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to. Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already. I’m a film geek for God’s sake! I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old. I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time. So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see. Enjoy!)
My first Documentary for the column. In general, I like many documentaries, though I must admit, if it’s a subject I don’t understand (like if it’s about the stock market or technical politics) I kind of tune out. Most of my favorite documentaries are about the entertainment industry or creative types. AMERICAN MOVIE, FULL TILT BOOGIE, DOUBLE DARE, and CRUMB, just to name a few. Not sure why I missed this one, as it seems to be just my cup of tea.
This Doc is about the rise and fall of legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans. It begins with his career manufacturing women’s slacks in the 50’s. But then he meets Norma Shearer at a pool and says that she thinks that he would be good in a James Cagney movie that she’s in titled THE MAN WITH A THOUSAND FACES. He gets the part and does a great job. But after 2 other movies that bombed, he decides that he’d rather produce. The rest of the movie chronicles his producing life as he was the man behind ROSEMARY’S BABY, LOVE STORY, THE GODFATHER, MARATHON MAN, POPEYE and THE COTTON CLUB. He falls in love with and marries LOVE STORY star Ali McGraw. We learn about his cocaine addiction and his friction with other actors and producers on the set. And how his world crumbled out from underneath him. And his attempt to rise again.
What makes this different from a lot of biographical documentaries, is that Robert Evans himself narrates the picture. In fact, most of the material is culminated from his book, which has the same title. So this isn’t a movie that gets all sides of the story. This is entirely from Evans’ point of view. Now, that pretty much means that maybe not everything stated in the film is 100% true, but to me that didn’t matter. Evans is such an interesting character, with his low raspy voice, that I just didn’t care. He’s a fascinating storyteller and it’s was an absolute joy to listen to all of his outrageous tales.
As I mentioned before, I am a total sucker for documentaries about Hollywood and the making of movies. So I absolutely loved this one. When he becomes a producer, we get to hear little stories about what happened during production on each movie he produced. Well, at least a few of them. I didn’t know about some of these things. It was absolutely engaging hearing about how Sinatra wanted his then-wife Mia Farrow off of ROSEMARY’S BABY, and how Evans convinced her to stay on. There’s an awesome story about how Evans kept the producers from pulling the plug on LOVE STORY (we even get to see the full promo he made, directed by Mike Nichols, that he showed the money men!). That was so cool! We hear about the problems Evans had with Ali McGraw, the creative battles he had with Coppola, and his struggle with cocaine. You actually hear a recreation of some of these conversations with Evans voicing both parts. It’s pretty cool.
I really dug Evans smug, candid attitude. This dude doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t sugar coat things. He gets into the ugly side of his nature as well. I don’t think I really like the guy, but man, is he a blast to listen to. The way he described some famous people was hilarious. Like calling Polanski “The Pollack” or how he continued to calls his ex-wife “Snot Nose”. That was funny shit, and added a lot of personality to the flick. The movie also has a story arc not unlike an actual Hollywood movie. We see Robert’s career take off, but eventually see him fall due to the excesses of the celebrity life. Not unlike films such as BOOGIE NIGHTS, but this is somewhat based on reality.
The direction is fantastic. It’s got a real nice pace that always get had me engaged. Nanette Bernstein keeps things moving at a brisk pace while Evans talks over rare photos and footage of his life. This is far more entertaining than any fiction film could have been made of this guy’s life. It offers a fascinating peek into the (not always glamorous) life of a Hollywood big shot. Full of insight, meaty tidbits, and not without humor, this documentary is one of the best. If you’re interesting in the making of movies, then you owe it to yourself to see this story, told through the eyes of one of Hollywood’s legends. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for language and some brief violent and sexual images.
– Running time: 1hr 33min.
(THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE is available to rent on DVD at Netflix)