The best critics understand that auteurism is a handy critical lens rather than a commentary on how movies are made, but it inevitably encourages writing that overlooks major contributions by film’s non-directorial craftspeople.
Filmmaker Daniel Raim was nominated for an Oscar for his short documentary The Man on Lincoln’s Nose (2001), an appreciation of production designer Robert Boyle, whose career spanned from The Wolf Man through Hitchcock (North by Northwest, The Birds) and gems such as The Crimson Kimono, Cape Fear, In Cold Blood and much more. Boyle lived to be 100, and taught at the American Film Institute until his death in 2010.
Raim has subsequently created Something’s Gonna Live (2010), a fascinating and moving tribute to Boyle and his long friendship with aged Hollywood veterans: production designers Henry Bumstead and Al Nozaki, storyboard artist Harold Michelson, cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Conrad Hall. Raim follows the group as they periodically meet and visit locations such as their one-time offices at Paramount, the set of The Birds, even a repertory house, all the while chatting about the creative values they instilled in their work.
While some of these figures have appeared in other documentaries or DVD extras, what makes Raim’s film special is the time he takes to capture their personalities—bright, good-humored, and dedicated, all—and camaraderie, highlighting their commitment to human observation and meaning. At a time when Hollywood narrative can seem like an excuse for empty set pieces designed for trailer consumption, Raim’s film is a memorial to a generation of artists who saw themselves as co-storytellers. As Wexler puts it, “Films will always be commercial…but people did say, ‘I want to make this film and I want to make this film because I believe in it.”
Refreshingly casual and free flowing, Something’s Gonna Live is compulsive viewing for movie fans, with its many film clips, rare artwork, and anecdotes about Hitchcock, DeMille, and others. Conversations about pre-digital special effects (technical perfection versus effectiveness), the importance of the viewer’s imagination, and how Hollywood has changed over the years are engaging and informed.
But the film is much more than that: it’s also an unsentimental portrait of aging, and the importance of finding meaning in one’s work. What lingers most is the life wisdom and love of craft these men share, and their willingness to share it with others.