Something's Gonna Live

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Ratings (out of five): ***

Something's Gonna Live is filmmaker Daniel Raim's follow-up to his Man on Lincoln's Nose, and once again looks at former Hollywood production designer Robert Boyle, now 97 during the filming of this documentary. It's a love letter to a Hollywood long since gone with some of its surviving members, a sweet, poignant little portrait of a neglected artist. If it has a bit of a home movie feel to it and doesn't have a great deal of dramatic energy to it, for anyone who considers them an aficionado of Old Hollywood, it's very worthy viewing.

The film follows Boyle as he has a reunion with his longtime friends and peers, including cinematographer Conrad Hall; production designer Al Nozaki (War of the Worlds, Robinson Crusoe on Mars) -- sadly, Nozaki became blind decades ago and had to retire in 1969; storyboard artist Harold Michaelson, who often did great work totally incredited; and production designer Henry Bumstead (The Sting), who, incredibly, worked on Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima films when he was 91, before retiring. Also joining them is cinematographer Haskell Wexler, a veritable spring chicken when compared to the rest of the gang here.

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Given it took Raim the better part of 10 years to complete this labor of love, it hopefully won't spoil it to say not all of its subjects survived that span of time, which gives the doc an added poignancy--though to his credit Raim doesn't push too hard on this part of their stories. A good chunk of the film consists of elderly gents reminiscing, but their reminiscences are often fascinating and amusing, especially for film buffs.

And Boyle, who worked as a designer at Paramount and then Universal, having worked on both Hitchcock's Saboteur and the horror film The Wolf Man to start his lengthy career, is a special man, an artist who even when much more aged continues to probe and question and learn.

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All of these men have good stories to tell, some of them sad: Nozaki lost his studio job after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and ended up in the Manzanar determent camp; Bumstead complains about not enough "good agers" (the lost art of realistically scuffing walls and furniture to give a place proper lived-in look in period films). But a central part of the film is the group of men having a reunion and going to visit Bodega Bay, California, to discuss the design of Hitchcock's The Birds, which Boyle did key work on (and Michaelson assisted on storyboarding). Boyle's detailed discussion of the challenges in creating and making The Birds is all by itself worth watching the film. Here they also make the point that while technically if you made a film like The Birds today it would be "perfect" in look given technology advancements it would not have Hitchcock's touch for suspense and the story.

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The film is a character study looking back and some of their conversations, while poignant, aren't always so, on topic, shall we say and it's not always paced so swiftly, meanders. Still, cinephiles and anyone who wants to learn more about movie art and production design--an overlooked, even critical part of the success and failure of a film--will appreciate Something's Gonna Live.

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