American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Everyone in the Sundance Film Festival audience knew what he meant. We had just seen "The Kid Stays in the Picture," a new documentary about the life of this producer who put together one of the most remarkable winning streaks in Hollywood history, and followed it with a losing streak that almost destroyed him. It's one of the most honest films ever made about Hollywood; maybe a documentary was needed, since fiction somehow always simplifies things.
Evans made the kinds of movies that would never have played at Sundance; it's poetic justice that he finally got into the festival with a documentary. As the boy wonder head of production at Paramount, he took the studio from last to first in annual ticket sales, dominating the late 1960s and '70s with "The Godfather," "Chinatown," "Love Story," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Odd Couple," "Black Sunday" and "Urban Cowboy." And he married Ali MacGraw, his star in "Love Story." Then everything that had gone right started to go wrong. MacGraw left him for Steve McQueen. Evans had exited the studio job with a lucrative personal production deal when disaster struck. He was involved in a cocaine-purchasing sting set up by the DEA, rehabilitated himself with a series of public-service broadcasts, tried a comeback by producing a high-visibility flop ("The Cotton Club") and then was linked by innuendo and gossip with the murder of a man obscurely involved in the film's financing.
Evans was never charged with anything. But to this day people vaguely remember the drug and murder stories, and at one point in the 1980s he was so depressed he committed himself to a mental hospital, afraid he would kill himself.
"The Kid Stays in the Picture" is narrated by Evans himself, in a gravely, seen-it-all, told-it-all tone of voice. The film edits out some details, such as his other marriages, but only for purposes of time, we feel. Certainly nothing is papered over; Evans sounds like a man describing an accident he barely survived.