Hollywood's 72-year-old 'kid'

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Aug. 6, 2002 at 7:59 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- A documentary about one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood during the 1970s is turning into a surprise hit in limited engagements in Los Angeles and New York, and could reach even wider audiences during its run.

"The Kid Stays in the Picture," based on producer Robert Evans' 1994 memoir of the same name, grossed $78,000 last weekend -- its second weekend in release. That might not sound like much, but it was only playing in five theaters, so the average take per theater was $14,556.

Numbers like that attract a lot of attention in Hollywood, and distributors are planning to expand the release to eight more markets this weekend.

As the head of Paramount Pictures from 1966-75, Evans was a major player in Hollywood -- credited with getting such classic pictures as "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown," "Love Story" and "The Godfather" made during a time frequently referred to as Hollywood's last golden era.

His stock plummeted after a series of divorces -- including a highly publicized split with "Love Story" star Ali McGraw -- and an out-of-control cocaine habit that led to a highly publicized drug bust. Evans was also rumored to be involved -- but never charged -- in the murder of Roy Radin, a showbiz wannabe who was killed during the making of "The Cotton Club" in the early '80s.

Evans addressed all those negatives and more in his memoir, which became an underground hit in Hollywood when it was released in audio form -- with Evans narrating. He also narrates the new documentary, co-directed by filmmakers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen ("Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America," "On the Ropes").

Jeff Danna, who wrote the score for the documentary, told United Press International that Evans doesn't sidestep controversy in the movie either.

"He seems not to shy away from blaming himself and taking stuff upon himself," said Danna. "There's a fair bit of self flagellation for his missteps."

Evans shared the bill at a promotional appearance at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Tuesday with Danna and Slash, the former Guns N' Roses guitarist whose electric version of "Love Theme from The Godfather" appears on the soundtrack album.

Danna ("My Own Country," "The Matthew Shepard Story") said the event was sure to attract "three vastly different worlds coming together ... hard rock, Hollywood hipsters and some film score people."

Danna said the key to scoring "The Kid Stays in the Picture" was recognizing that the movie is more like a dramatic feature than a documentary.

"When we first got together to do the project," he said, "one of the things the directors said to me is 'think of this as an opera and Bob's voiceover is the libretto.'"

No one expects "The Kid Stays in the Picture" to break out and become a major hit, but Danna said it will hold a strong appeal for people who like movies about the movie business.

"It's certainly for anyone remotely connected to the business," he said, "but beyond that people who just watch the film who are just sort of casual film fans will be amazed to see how many cultural touchstones Evans supplied us with."

The project is providing a major boost to the rehabilitation of Evans' reputation in Hollywood, where the 72-year-old filmmaker has become suddenly hip, and been transformed into something of a guru to younger film professionals.

MTV recently filmed him at his home, in a series of promos for the upcoming MTV Video Awards. Some of the hottest directors in Hollywood regard him as something of a visionary.

Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") told the Los Angeles Times Evans represents a freedom from corporate domination that few contemporary filmmakers enjoy.

"The studio mind-set today is all about franchises, but Bob was an idea man," said Ratner. "If Bob were running Paramount today I'd make a movie there in a minute. He never made a movie that was a generic copy of something else."

Evans told the paper he often relied on instinct, which paid off on projects like "Chinatown" -- the 1974 crime-thriller that earned Oscar nominations for best picture, director (Roman Polanski), actor (Jack Nicholson) and actress (Faye Dunaway), and a screenplay statuette for Robert Towne.

"Success is all about betting on your instincts," said Evans. "That's the problem with today's business. It's not an art form, it's a barter form. The studios are run by committees of MBAs, but I've never seen an MBA who knows how to make people cry."

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