Wisely, Evans begins the book by talking about how there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. And while I have no doubt what Evans talks about in this great book is what he believes to be the truth as best he can tell it, I have no doubt that that the other side to many of his stories are just as interesting.
The one truth, however, that can’t be denied to Evans are the films he produced and his influence on the quality of those films. Strangely, many of his biggest films are also not exactly films of any high cultural of cinematic virtue, but rather are popular films that spoke to the times and appealed to a wide audience – ‘the people out on Kansas City’. Evans had no pretensions, but like any complicated person even this isn’t wholly true because nobody can deny the greatness of ‘The Godfather’ even if they can argue about who actually made the film (Coppola is no hero in this memoir).
‘Love Story’, which starred his then wife (and probably only long time female friend), Ali MacGraw, best exemplifies Evans. The film is a train wreck of cliche, melodrama, silliness, and banality, yet it’s also a hugely successful film that as the years have gone by is largely forgotten by the public at large, just like Evans. Yet that success allowed Evans to produce some great films, too: Chinatown, Harold and Maude, The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Conversation.
But who is Evans? What does this book really reveal about him (and the audiobook is probably the only way to actually experience this book)? I’d say he’s a hustler, a tough as shit, smarter than you, lucky, Hustler with a capital ‘H’. He’s slick, he’s shady, he did all the drugs, but he managed to head a studio that was at the height of its power during the greatest era in American film making. That’s no bull-shit.
As far as the book itself, well, it’s just a collection of great stories told chronologically starting from when he was a kid, to his first break as an actor, to (and I’m still a little fuzzy on this next detail) head of Paramount Pictures (though still an employee with a boss to answer to). And if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this nearly as much aside from the chapters dealing with The Godfather and discovering Al Pacino because it’s the character of Evans that comes through in the reading that adds a layer of depth you just can’t get with the printed page.
Yet as a cultural touchstone (one Bob Odenkirk has been channeling into comedy gold in one form or another for over a decade), the book represents the best and worst of pop culture at the end of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Everything from excess to economic depression to political intrigue at the absolute highest levels of government (hello, Kissinger, you strange, strange bedfellow) is here, as are the contradictions: Evans makes sure to talk about film as a collaborative effort but then makes sure his stamp is all over every last detail (he even calls himself a dictator) is at once at odds with ‘the truth’ but also in keeping with the man.
Evans is hard to pin down, even in his own voice, but he does convey the sense that when he was in his prime he could run a studio and he makes you want to work for him, even if you know full well you’re going to get a lousy deal out of it (I think only Jack Nicholson ever one-upped Evans, and that’s why they probably remained friends).
Very interesting book, great to listen to, and a unique bit of insight as to how movies are really made. I doubt much has changed, either.